The Government came under fire from local authorities and education charities this week for breaking a promise to review discretionary awards before the New Year.
Information issued recently by the Department for Education showed that students' chances of gaining a discretionary award continue to depend largely on the local authority area in which they live. Twenty-five authorities gave no awards to 16 to 18-year-olds in 1992/93, and another 18 made grants available to fewer than 10 per cent of eligible students.
Tim Boswell, further and higher education minister, promised to act on the situation before the end of 1994.
In July last year he advised the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Sir John Cass's Foundation to delay a follow-up survey on discretionary awards because its conclusions were likely to be overtaken by a statement from his department in the autumn. He told them that the findings of the first inquiry, which exposed the awards system as patchy, inconsistent, and suffering big cuts, were being examined and there would be a policy decision in months.
Simon Richey, education director for the Gulbenkian Foundation, said this week the Government's delay was a matter of "great concern". "Here is an area which is obviously ripe for reform. The reason we set up and funded the original inquiry was because we expected it would lead to some policy changes," he said.
Mike Sparks, clerk to the governors for the Sir John Cass's Foundation, said the DFE's inaction was surprising given the amount of information gathered already. "If Mr Boswell procrastinates much further we may have to negotiate again with the Gulbenkian Foundation over the follow-up inquiry," he said.
The Association of County Councils was meeting this week to discuss its response to a letter from Mr Boswell suggesting the Government was more interested in common local authority policies on awards rather than a proposed common code. A report to the meeting says: "It is more difficult, not to say impossible, for many local authorities to adopt common policies on discretionary awards given the financial pressures on all discretionary services in the current financial climate."