Education: Hard lesson in the price of studying

Education: Whitehall is on a mission to place an extra 700,000 students in college, and is backing its drive with cash
WHEN Belinda Everiste signed on at her local college to study three A-levels, most of her friends were deciding to try to find a job rather than continue with their education.

Belinda carried on with her studies and is working towards A-levels in performing arts, philosophy and history.

She hopes to become a teacher and said yesterday: "My first motive is to come to learn, but if I didn't have the funds behind me it would make it difficult.

"A lot of my friends decided to go and get a job."

Belinda, a student at Newham Sixth Form College, is one of hundreds who benefit from a scheme to offer grants to east London teenagers to persuade them to remain at school or college.

Many students at the college come from families on income support. The college offers many students free meals to reduce the cost of their course and two students a week ask about its hardship fund.

The borough council in Newham offers grants of pounds 300 to all 16 to 19-year- olds from low-income backgrounds who are on full-time courses. The money, enough to pay for a few books and the bus fare to college, is paid out at the end of term - and only if students turn up for at least 80 per cent of their lessons.

Students at the college backed the idea of a weekly allowance.

Natalie Bruns, who is studying for a BTEC National Diploma in performing arts at the college, said: "I don't get a grant, but most of my friends at college do. They have a lot of problems with travel."

She added: "One of my friends has his own place and is on income support. He finds it very difficult to come to college and sometimes he can't come at all."

Mifta Ahmed, a student studying English, geography and law, gets a pounds 350 grant from Tower Hamlets council, paid at the end of the year.

He said: "The grant works out at about pounds 8 a week. I spend pounds 6 or pounds 7 on transport alone. But there are a lot of other expenses like books and paper.

"The grants are useful but they could be a bit higher."

Ben Russell