Thursday, June 4, 1998 Published at 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
'Give 16-year-old students grants' say MPs
The report calls for a huge expansion of the further education sector
MPs are calling for the scrapping of child benefit for 16- to 19-year-old students and its replacement with a system of grants as part of a massive expansion of further education.
A report from the House of Commons Select Committee on Education recommends that students who decide to either stay on at school or attend a further education college should receive a "learning allowance" from the government.
It also calls for an additional £500m for further education over the next four years, to reverse the cuts of recent years and fund a major increase in student numbers.
The learning allowance would replace the current system under which parents can claim child benefit for children up to the age of 19 if they are in full-time education and remain living in the family home.
In the long term, the committee would like to see means-tested maintenance loans made available to all students studying full-time, work-related courses.
Diverting child benefit payments from parents to students in the 16 to 19 age group could raise around £600m a year, she said, to supplement the £300 million local authorities already put into supporting those students.
The introduction of a means-tested loans system could raise another £1bn a year, with the combined pool of nearly £2bn funding a grant of between £30 and £40 a week for each of the 1.2 million students in the age group.
"The objective is to encourage that group of students least likely to be in full-time education and training," said Mrs Hodge.
"In a world where better skills will increase individual prosperity and the prosperity of the nation, the longer we keep children in education, the better the performances they achieve, the better it is for them and society as a whole."
The committee report also says further education should benefit from 430,000 of the 500,000 new student places that the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has promised to create.
Such a move could result in funds raised from the imposition of tuition fees on higher education students being diverted to the further education sector.
This would not go down well with university vice-chancellors, who have given broad support to the government on the issue of fees in the belief that their insititutions would benefit from the money raised.
Other recommendations in the report include: the harmonisation of the funding of education for 16 to 19-year-olds in schools and colleges; a tightening up of the rules on the quality of further education courses; and the appointment of an ombudsman to deal with complaints from students and staff about mismanagement and corruption.
Ms Hodge called on the government to implement the report's recommendations.
"For too long, further education has been the Cinderella of British education," she said.
The general secretary of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, Paul Mackney, welcomed the committee's conclusions.
"The select committee report has put a price tag on a central component of the learning revolution," he said.
"If the government is seriously committed to this it will come up with the goods and allow the partners in further education to build a system we can all take pride in."
The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals urged the government to avoid the temptation to starve higher education of resources to meet the committee's plea for more money for further education.
Its chief executive, Diana Warwick, said: "New public funds must be found for both further education and higher education.
"Robbing Peter to pay Paul will not meet the aspirations of a society eager to learn."
The Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, Don Foster, said the report's suggestions on additional financial support for further education represented only what the committee thought the government might be persuaded to provide.
"Overall, there is much food for thought in this report but the lack of demand for resources will sadly send a clear message to the government that it can solve the funding crisis in further education relatively painlessly.
"In short, the Cinderella service may still not go to the ball."