College students in Central Bedfordshire 'missing classes over transport costs and too hungry to learn'

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Call for council to bring back education maintenance allowances

College students are missing school days because they are either unable to afford travel costs or too hungry to learn, a meeting heard.

Education maintenance allowances should be reintroduced to help families affected by food and fuel price increases, according to Labour Parkside councillor Antonia Ryan.

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“The cost of living crisis shouldn’t impact young people’s right to an education,” she said in a motion to an extraordinary Central Bedfordshire Council meeting.

A councillor has called for education maintenance allowances to be reintroduced in Central BedsA councillor has called for education maintenance allowances to be reintroduced in Central Beds
A councillor has called for education maintenance allowances to be reintroduced in Central Beds

She asked CBC “to bring back education maintenance allowances, which will allow pupils in sixth forms and colleges to apply for £400 to support them with their studies”, and to write to the Secretary of State for Education to request any extra government funding required to help address these issues.

Councillor Ryan told the meeting she was “contacted by colleges after their pupils were missing school days because they couldn’t afford to travel” or “more alarmingly wouldn’t turn up to classes as they’re too hungry to learn”.

These allowances allow pupils to apply for a grant to help with travel, books and the right amount of food to learn, she explained.

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“For years, this council has had some of the worst statistics in the country for the attainment of children on free school meals. We shouldn’t let children have no hope or opportunity and be written off from day one.

“If this administration is serious about delivering for our residents, education and children’s services has to be a top priority.

“The council needs to be thinking strategically about safeguarding our young people.”

Independent Flitwick councillor Gareth Mackey seconded the motion, saying: “Our country once invested quite considerably in our future by funding university places and by having maintenance grants available to pupils in the belief that only through education could we advance ourselves as a nation.

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“We should be investing more, particularly having cut so much during times of austerity through the need to balance the budget at that time.

“Now is the time to make decisions especially where we’re dealing with a financial crisis of potentially quite mammoth proportions. Investing in children today will secure our tomorrow.”

Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark said: “The cost of living crisis shouldn’t impact a young person’s right to an education, nor should they miss school days because they can’t afford the travel costs or be going hungry.

“When the education maintenance allowance was scrapped, it was replaced with the 16-19 bursary precisely to help these young people with books, equipment and travel to school and college. It’s worth up to £30 a week.

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“There’s an extra discretionary bursary fund students can apply for through schools and colleges with their own criteria usually based on income.

“We know there’ll be families that don’t meet the free school meals threshold, possibly needing support for the first time.

“Our direct food vouchers have been extended to reach more families, while the children’s centre £45,000 crisis fund, for which there’s no age limit, is also available.”

Councillor Ryan’s motion will be considered by CBC’s executive.