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Will scrapping the educational maintenance allowance stop teenagers staying on at college?

A VOTE in favour of scrapping an education grant would have a devastating impact on hundreds of Sunderland and County Durham students claim college leaders.

MPs were today debating the proposed axing of the Educational Maintenance Allowance and were expected to vote on the issue.

Yesterday Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson tabled a petition of 700 names, collected by students at the City of Sunderland College, against the Government’s plans to remove the funding for 16-19-year-olds.

The petition calls for the Government to reconsider phasing out the allowance, which gives students from poorer backgrounds a weekly payment of up to £30 to help towards travel and course costs.

Mrs Hodgson said: “A large share of the students who receive EMA are from households that are really struggling to make ends meet, and EMA is often the difference between those students having to get a full-time job to support their family and being able to stay in education or training, increasing their chances of making a good career for themselves when they eventually leave.

“The Government simply don’t get how much EMA means for students and families in Sunderland, and they’re refusing to listen when we tell them.”

Angela O’Donaghue, principal at City of Sunderland College, described the situation as “dire”.

She said: “We have been told that from the £3m that was given to our pupils in EMA only 10 per cent of that is now available, just £300,000, a figure that is obviously inadequate.”

The college estimates the number of 17-year-olds not in education could rise to up to 24 per cent as a result.

MS O’Donaghue added: “The impact for the city will be dire, and the speed at which it is happening is quite shocking. If ever there was a recipe for future social unrest, this is it.”

East Durham College Principal, Stuart Wesselby, said: “I believe that the Department for Education has made the wrong decision and that disadvantaged young people in East Durham and across the North East will suffer as a result of this decision and that ministers’ ambitions to raise the participation age to 18 will fail.”

The principal at the Peterlee-based college said 84 per cent of its students receive an EMA.