Why extending the Pupil Premium to HE is one good step in the right direction.

I recently came across a short excerpt of Tim Farron’s article on extending the Pupil Premium to HE students.

The Pupil a Premium, a Liberal Democrat flagship policy, currently gives schools new, additional money to provide additional support for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (pupils receiving Free School Meals).

In England the Pupil Premium in 2013/14 is worth £953 per eligible child in primary schools and £900 per eligible child in secondary schools. In 2014/15 the value of the Pupil Premium will increase to £1,300 per pupil for primary school children and £935 per pupil for secondary school children.

In Wales in 2013/14 the Pupil Premium, or Pupil Deprivation Grant, will give pupils in receipt of FSM an additional £918, an increase from £450. (All in opposition in Cardiff Bay, by the way!).

Research shows that one of the key measures that can be taken to address poor attainment and the fact that pupils eligible for free school meals in England are 50% more likely to obtain five good GCSEs than their counterparts in Wales, is addressing inequalities in education.

I’ll come back to addressing inequality as a means to improving the standard of living in another blog soon!

Finance is only one part of addressing those inequalities through providing additional support for pupils through smaller classes, additional support, additional time or new resources.

However, it is just one step. We have to go further. We have to do more than tweak the edges of the current settlement.

The same exists in HE however in terms of access in addition to attainment. The cost of education, day to day living, resources, travel is perhaps more of a barrier to accessing HE than fees, an argument that many have pursued since 2010 when the coalition government raised fees from £3,564 to £9,000 per year.

Extending additional financial support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds would be a welcome step in addressing barriers to accessing HE and widening access to HE. However the cost of living is an issue for the majority of students. 2/3 of students surveyed in Bangor (around 2000 students) told us that their student loan didn’t cover or barely covered the cost of their accommodation alone. That’s without food, travel, clothes, resources and general day to day living.

Listening to students, day to day living costs are more of a concern than tuition fees.

More needs to be done to address the underfunding of students, which impacts on access, retention, and success in education, and that’s without considering the impact of financial pressure on students’ health and mental health, which many institutions are becoming less equipped to deal with following funding changes in 2012.

But whilst this article and the majority of people talk HE we miss out on talking FE.

The financial pressures that FE students are just as great if not greater in some cases. FE students have far less financial support, are far more diverse in some cases than FE students, and FE institutions are facing more and more difficult situations.

Some local authorities are cutting travel arrangements for FE colleges, which will impact on students even further, adding more to the already high costs of studying.

In Wales we passed a policy with a new vision for FE in Wales, from structuring to the delivery and flexibility of education for institutions and learners. As a party we have long called for parity between HE, FE, and apprenticeships and other forms of education, and rightfully so. But we need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk, and we need a wholesale review of student funding, access, widening participation, retention, and FE in it’s entirety.

The Pupil Premium is something to be proud of, breaking down the links between someone’s background and attainment, however we have to do more, we have to go further, and we have to persuade the wider public of education as a public good and a right.

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