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?