Poorer students are being put off continuing their education, says the new president of the Association of Colleges
Funding cuts, transport costs and losses to careers and information services are still putting students off continuing their education, a college leader has warned.
Those from the poorest homes are the hardest hit, as families are forced to prioritise their spending in tough economic times, according to Maggie Galliers, the new president of the Association of Colleges (AoC).
She said it is difficult to predict how cuts to financial support such as the education maintenance allowance (EMA) would have an impact in the future, but admitted funding will have to stretch further.
Ms Galliers, principal of Leicester College, said there is a range of pressures on participation in further education - "the loss of the EMA, but also the Connexions service (which provided information and careers advice) going and transport costs, all of which get in the way of participation, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"From our own research, it seems to be at that entry level 1 (students who do not have GCSEs at grade C or above) that we're seeing the big difference." Ms Galliers added that it is difficult to predict the impact of the pressures.
The EMA, which was funding given to the poorest students to help them stay in education, was axed by the Government last year. It was replaced by a new system which allows schools and colleges to decide who should be given extra financial support.
When the EMA was scrapped, some students already eligible for the funding were allowed to continue taking it, but this is being phased out.
Ms Galliers said this funding "will have to stretch further. That's one of the reasons why the AoC is running its no free lunches campaign, to highlight the fact that there are 103,000 students in colleges who are missing out on free lunches".
Due to a funding anomaly, 16 to 18-year-olds who would be offered free school meals if they were at a school sixth form or academy are ineligible.
Ms Galliers added: "Clearly everyone in these economic times is struggling, and there's some families for whom they have to prioritise their spending. My greatest concern is that it is those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds."