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Welsh grants fuel English ire

Cash awards to poorer students in Wales add to the calls for a similar deal in England. Sue Learner reports.

Cash-strapped students in Wales are to get grants of up to pound;1,500 in a move that will put pressure on English education ministers to follow suit.

Wales, which has already scrapped school league tables and tests for seven-year-olds, is set to cause more dissension in England with the announcement that all of its less well-off FE and sixth-form students will get financial help.

This will put pressure on ministers to decide what to do about education maintenance allowances in England.

More than 100,000 FE students in deprived areas in England currently get a pound;40 a week allowance as part of a pilot scheme.

But the Association of Colleges which wants the scheme extended across England has criticised it as "selective" and "divisive". The Welsh Assembly grant is available to all eligible FE students who have lived in Wales for at least three years, whether or not they study there. Students with parents earning up to pound;15,000 will be eligible for the grants averaging pound;700-pound;800 with the maximum being pound;1,500.

The grant is also available to students from low-come families in higher education. It is thought that as many as 43,000 students will benefit.

Jane Davidson, the Welsh Assembly education minister, said: "It demonstrates the Welsh Assembly's commitment to low-income communities and widening access to education and learning groups. It is a good time to come and study in Wales."

The announcement follows a report commissioned by Mrs Davidson which called for measures to improve access to further and higher education and reduce student debt.

Different levels of grant will be paid to full-time and part-time students and there will be supplementary elements for mature students aged over 25 and those with childcare costs.

Steve Brooks, president of the National Union of Students Wales has welcomed the inclusion of further education students, who under the old pre-1998 grants system were not eligible.

He said: "It is the beginning of the end of student hardship in Wales. This grant will allow access to further and higher education to some Wales' most deprived communities."

The Association of Further Education Colleges in Wales, fforwm, has also welcomed the announcement. But chief executive John Graystone warned: "It is vital that the system does not place a bureaucratic burden on colleges in Wales, given the already significant problems colleges encounter because of the current level of red tape."

The Department for Education and Skills has refused to say whether it will follow in the footsteps of Wales and introduce grants for English FE students.

A spokesman said: "The future of the overall student support system in England and Wales is being considered by the student funding review which will report soon. We will consult on the review once it has reported."

Maggie Scott, curriculum and quality adviser for the AOC, said: "We would like to see grants rolled out across England as they have proved to be an extremely good way of motivating learners. The grants in Wales are available everywhere but the allowances are only available in certain areas and they can be seen to be divisive."

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