Pupil ‘bonuses’ “totally unjust”, says Laws

by Stephen Tall on November 4, 2008

David Laws, the Lib Dems’ shadow secretary of state for schools, has criticised the policy of paying poorer students for, among other things, attending class. The Telegraph reports:

In some cases, students are paid £250 each in taxpayers’ money for attending every class over the course of a year. Middle-class students with the same academic record are ineligible for the payments.

The cash is paid on top of a basic £30-a-week grant handed out to all students from deprived backgrounds to remain in education up to 18 – instead of getting a job. … bonuses worth a record £100.5m were also made to reward eligible students impressing their tutors. It compares to £96.8m a year earlier and £44.9m in 2004/5.

Here’s what David Laws has to say about it:

Some of the bonuses are being awarded for getting work in on time and it will seem totally unjust to students that some will be rewarded financially, not because of the high quality of their work, but on how much their parents happen to earn. When we consider the other areas in which extra money could make a real difference – for example in closing the funding gap between schools and colleges – these bonuses do not look like a good use of public funds.”

Three questions, then, to ponder:
1) Can cash bonuses to pupils ever be justified?
2) If yes, is it right that they should be means-tested?
3) Even if they can be justified, is this the best use of taxpayers’ money?

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One form of pocket money from the state is much like another. Why not tie it to attendance and assignments completed?

I sympathise with this as a way of getting poor kids to stay in education. Is it the best use of that money? Don’t know. I suspect a better use would be funding scholarships and bursaries but that sort of thing seems to be out of favour.

by Joe Otten on November 4, 2008 at 2:46 pm. Reply #

If it ensures that more young people from poorer backgrounds leave education with, er, an education it must surely have merit.

This may not be the best use of taxpayers’ money but it may still be worth pursuing as it is clearly a quick fix, whereas most education reforms take a lot longer and the consequences of them cannot be evaluated for years after.

I should know, I went to a lousy south London comprehensive…

by wit and wisdom on November 4, 2008 at 3:17 pm. Reply #

Paying kids to turn up to classes they don’t want to attend is trying to treat the problem far too late. We need to ask why kids don’t want to turn up. Is it because poor kids feel like there’s no point because they aren’t going to work in anything better than a call-centre anyway? Is it because the A-Level curriculum is irrelevant to those sorts of people? Is it because poorer children are liable to come from broken homes and/or stay-at-home benefits homes in which the parents don’t work?

All of these are IMO far more important challenges to deal with than simply getting children to turn up to lessons that they have already identified as useless to them.

by sanbikinoraion on November 4, 2008 at 4:16 pm. Reply #

I’m not sure I would agree with David about this. My granddaughter has gone back into education and her family is therefore getting the £30 a week for her attendance. I don’t think she has received any bonuses but my guess is that relatively small amounts of money used like this could have a disproportionately large effect on altering perceptions of the value of education amongst those for whom it has not hitherto been of great significance. Abstractions like ‘closing the funding gap between schools and colleges’ do not compare with helping a kid who has known nothing but failure at school feel good about themselves in an educational context.

The down side of this system is the pressure it puts on vulnerable families: if you are poor £30 a week is a significant amount of money to lose from your budget and it has meant, for example, my granddaughter feeling serious pressure to go to college the day after she had teeth extracted.

by tony hill on November 4, 2008 at 6:31 pm. Reply #

These payuments are apparently seperate to the EMA money students get for attending cousres, which makes them pretty unjustfied IMHO

by Peter1919 on November 4, 2008 at 6:33 pm. Reply #

This is a policy that encourages social mobility. I know that we have our policy on pupil premium but neither policy is in itself the whole answer for encouraging social mobility.
If the policy actually works, would David Laws have the nerve to repeal it?

by Geoffrey Payne on November 5, 2008 at 4:32 pm. Reply #

If the policy works, why on Earth should he?

by sanbikinoraion on November 5, 2008 at 4:40 pm. Reply #

How can we tell whether it works?

by Joe Otten on November 5, 2008 at 4:48 pm. Reply #

Well, ideally the government of the day (or the house of lords) would set up some measurements including a control group and let a pilot scheme run for a few years and then examine the outcomes, without actually politicially gerrymandering the process … and then decide whether it’s actually helping people enough to make it value for money.

No chance of that with the current bunch of ideologues though, innit?

by sanbikinoraion on November 5, 2008 at 4:59 pm. Reply #

Personally I’d leave this kind of decision up to individual schools and their budgets, possibly with additional support from the charitable sector.

One school then might decide then that outcomes are improved by spending part of their budget or outside donations on incentivising pupils, another by improving their facilities or teachers. That diversity of approach would then also help schools better assess which methods are more effective more quickly. It would also seem to be a reasonably sensible use of part of the ‘pupil premium’ funding… if it actually works.

As a blanket measure though applied regardless of whether or not it is locally appropriate or makes any meaningful difference, it is wasteful, and discriminatory.

by Andy Mayer on November 5, 2008 at 5:30 pm. Reply #

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