Almost two-thirds of 16-year-olds are unaware that there is government funding of up to £1,200 a year available to support sixth-formers in need, according to new research.
The research, funded by the government, reveals that just 36 per cent of pupils had heard of the bursary – named the 16 to 19 Fund – before finishing Year 11.
More than 3,500 pupils were surveyed in an effort to understand how effective the bursary fund has been.
The fund was introduced in September 2001, replacing the Education Maintenance Allowance in England. It offers financial support to disadvantaged pupils who might not otherwise be able to afford education or training after the age of 16.
Schools told the researchers that they had publicised the new fund by handing out written material, as well as talking about it at events such as open days. Some 59 per cent of institutions surveyed said that they had put information about the fund on their website.
The pupils questioned said that they thought that the best way to raise awareness would be to increase the amount that the fund is promoted and publicised in schools during Years 10 and 11, before any decisions are made about post-16 education.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said that she was unsurprised by the low awareness of the new fund. “It’s always the case that, when you replace a universal grant with one that is means-tested, there’s lower take-up,” she said.
“The young people who need it the most are the least likely to have the means and resources to find out about it.”
She added that the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance – which was not means-tested – was “a knee-jerk decision, based on ignorance”.
Among those students who did receive the bursary, 28 per cent said that they would not have been able to afford to stay in education without the additional support. However, 35 per cent said that the money they received was not enough to make a difference to them.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “We are determined to ensure that every young person is taking part in education and training up until age 18. That’s why we have reformed support for 16-18 year olds to ensure that providers target support to those most in need, and that those that can’t afford it receive free meals.
“In contrast to the costly and poorly targeted Educational Mantainence Allowance introduced by Labour, this approach has meant that we’ve been able to tackle the real barriers to participation, which is why we now see record levels of young people in education or training post – 16.”