Students attending rural colleges are at greater risk of dropping out of education owing to the government's refusal to pay for free transport, a union has claimed. Although transportation must be provided for students up to the age of 16 who live more than three miles from their school or college, this is no longer the case after they have completed their GCSEs.
As a result, the ATL teaching union's annual conference in Manchester heard last week, colleges with large, rural catchment areas face challenges in retaining learners who are forced to pay their own travel costs.
Krystal Ketcher, who teaches at Strode College in Somerset, told delegates that the raised participation age was giving students a "raw deal" as they were being forced to stay in education without financial support.
The bursary system that had replaced the education maintenance allowance was "significantly underfunded", she added, meaning that colleges offering support "have to take funding from other areas, permitting inclusion for the whole population of the college but putting everyone at a disadvantage".
At Strode College, 77 per cent of students lived more than three miles from the campus and were forced to pay for a bus pass that had increased in cost by 29 per cent over the past three years, Ms Ketcher said.
"This at the very least can lead to students being forced to work long hours outside of college to pay for transport. At worst it can lead to students giving up on their futures because they can't afford to access the education they need," she added.
Chris Daye, who teaches at a special educational needs school in Birmingham, said that urban institutions were also affected, with disabled post-16 learners forced to travel on public buses. "They might as well just paint a target on their backs," he said.