Tottenham students come up with their own answers

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The Independent Online

Kevin Martin holds his results envelope up high. "It's good, man," he says. Three Bs and three Cs along with a merit and a distinction in two BTEC courses; Kevin, a pupil at Tottenham's Woodside High School, has the grades to go to college like so many of his classmates, who are now destined for one of north London's sixth-form colleges to study for their A-levels.

Kevin, though, has other ideas.

"I want to spend my twenties earning money, and not paying it back," he says.

Rather than go on to further education, Kevin plans to take up an apprenticeship with Carillion, a construction company. With the economic outlook for prospective sixth-form and university students growing bleaker each year, Kevin is one of a growing number turning their backs on further education.

"The government's put up tuition fees and cut education maintenance allowances," Kevin says. "They don't understand how that affects us. Instead of spending thousands of pounds on all that and then finish without a job, I want to go into something I can get a career from.

"Ever since the riots, everyone on the news seems to think that all the youth in Tottenham are rioters; that's not the case. I'm going into construction; maybe I'll rebuild Allied Carpets, show that the youth can build things instead of burn things" he says, referring to the landmark building on Tottenham High Road, burnt to the ground by rioters earlier this month, less than a mile away from Kevin's school.

His classmates are building for the future too. However, many receiving their GCSE results at Woodside yesterday expressed concern that, thanks to government's scrapping of the EMA scheme, a £30-per-week grant for low income students, they will have take up part-time work just to afford transport to college. Some even help their parents pay the bills, according to their head teacher, Joan McVittie.

"We are moving towards a divide between the haves and the have nots among young people," says Ms McVittie, who in September takes up the presidency of the Association of School and College Leaders.

"Many of my students need the EMA to pay for things like transport, food and bills; things that middle class parents don't hesitate to pay for."

Nasteho Youssef, 16, who has earned 4Bs, 3Cs and a clutch of BTEC qualifications, would have been entitled to the EMA. She is worried that the extra time she will have to spend working will affect her studies.

"I'm the eldest of five sisters and I have a brother too. We're a handful for my mum, who's on income support. I feel responsible for them. I'm worried about stress and how I'm going to manage my time between home, college and work," she says.