Fairer" system of student support

October 2, 1998

Alan Thomson reports from the Labour Party conference in Blackpool

Ministers' plans for a "fairer" system of student support in further education are expected to fall short of the minimum Pounds 400 million package recommended by government advisers.

At a debate on student support arrangements late last week, Baroness Blackstone said the government hoped to "add more new money" to the current discretionary award system. However, she said, "how much this will add up to in total is yet to be decided".

Consultation on proposals ended this week. Baroness Blackstone said that policy decisions will be announced in November. But a senior government adviser said that already Baroness Blackstone was trying to lower their expectations.

The minister said: "Because we will be approaching help for student support in a number of waysI the need for a catch-all and very large central fund will be reduced. What will be needed is a tightly packaged, much better focused scheme targeted at those most requiring help."

The minister was clear that the local discretionary awards system will be replaced with a new national system by 1999.

Baroness Blackstone said that a proposed new education maintenance allowance, "could eventually replace post-16 child benefit". Although pilots have not yet been arranged, it is expected that from September 1999 the means-tested allowance will be available in selected areas.

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