Colleges oppose West Sussex cuts in travel support

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FIVE West Sussex college principals have joined forces to oppose plans to axe travel support for young people over 16 with families on low incomes.

Peter Corrigan (Worthing College), Sue Dare (Northbrook College), Jackie Johnston (The College of Richard Collyer), Shelagh Legrave (Chichester College) and Russell Strutt (Central Sussex College) have signed a joint letter to West Sussex County Council, requesting a rethink on its decision to remove the travel support from families with an income of less than £16,190.

The letter says: “We believe this decision was made in good faith, based on suggestions published nationally that there would be sufficient replacement of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) through the 16-18 Bursary Fund to enable each young person entitled to a free school meal to have £800 per annum.

“While we expected there to be a substantial decrease of funding support available with the demise of the EMA, we are very concerned that the allocation of the 16-18 Bursary Fund has resulted in a large cut and that it has disproportionately hit the further education sector.”

The letter says up to 60 per cent of the available bursary would go to a small but needy guarantee group, numbering no more than 200 young people across the county.

“Dividing the remainder amongst the high numbers at college who live with families on low income levels results in students receiving insufficient income to pay for the travel card and their subsidised travel, let alone receive essential support for equipment, materials and food.

“As an example at Chichester College, once those in the guarantee group are given their £1,200, the weekly amount available for the rest would only be £2.12.”

Peter Griffiths, the county council’s cabinet member for education and schools, said: “I was reluctant to make this decision, however, the £79million savings required means that difficult decisions have to be made.

“The county council continues to help all post-16 students in West Sussex by underwriting the 3in1 scheme which offers students half-fare travel on buses.

“For those from low-income families, the 3in1 card is free.

“The most vulnerable, such as students in care, care leavers and students who receive Income Support in their own right, are guaranteed help (£1,200) from the 16-19 Bursary Fund administered by schools and colleges.

“The issue here is that the allocation of the Bursary Fund is not in the colleges’ favour.

“We will support the colleges in their representation to the Young People’s Learning Agency, to find a fairer way of distributing the fund.”