Resources may be more stretched than ever, but sixth-form college principal Jane Overbury still makes sure her students get a free breakfast
Times are hard in the further education sector and my own 2,700-student, three-campus sixth-form college is no exception. In the past four years we have lost £1.3 million in funding and we are certainly not alone.
But a key priority of our financial planning is to ensure the college still provides a package of resources for students. This includes breakfast for those who arrive in good time for the first lesson of the day, and we also pay for textbooks, stationery packs, photocopying and printing. The college provides: lab coats and goggles for science students; music tuition for performing arts students; sports kit, including tracksuits; and a contribution towards equipment for art, graphics, textiles and photography.
This is not about incentivising study. We believe these are essential tools, and to us they are an investment in learners’ future achievement. We focus all our efforts on helping our students to be the best they can be, and this is one way of removing potential barriers and levelling that all-important playing field.
Our student body from the border of south-east London and Kent has high levels of deprivation: 30 per cent of students receive free school meals and many qualify for government student bursaries. But many families just exceed the £16,000 income threshold for free school meals and bursaries, yet still face enormous financial pressures. Science equipment, textbooks and all the other necessities of student life can quickly become a drain on the family budget.
Our college’s resources are carefully targeted to meet specific needs. For example, stationery packs are much more than the sum of their parts. Many students face barriers in their lives that mean it is difficult for them to organise themselves for learning. Providing the pens and paper they need for lessons is just one small way of giving structure to sometimes difficult lives.
And by providing breakfast for those who arrive in good time for the first class of the day, we encourage our students to be punctual – as well as giving them a nutritional boost to support concentration.
We also set great stock by being transparent about any funding commitments students are expected to make. So, for example, we make it absolutely clear that there is a £40 refundable deposit for textbooks.
We know that when parents send their children to college they assume it will be free – if they were confronted with nasty financial surprises as the term progressed, many of our students would fall by the wayside. And that’s a price we would not want to pay.
Jane Overbury is principal of Christ the King Sixth Form College in south-east London