Cornwall Council to Help Cornish Students

The cost of a person going on to Higher Education has always been a factor. In the past it was far easier to afford, but with the Government allowing Universities to triple tuition fees, this has made attending a University unaffordable to many families.

This issue has been raised by Cornwall Council’s Children’s Education and Families Scrutiny Committee (CSF OSC), and the Cabinet of Cornwall Council has also been well aware of the problem. The council has started to address this by making money available for travelling cost for students.

Now, the council is taking a further step (and a big step it is) in the right direction in addressing the issue of making more affordable. The council is proposing to introduce a scheme which could,  if approved, start in 2014. Initially £1m will come from existing resources to support the scheme in the first year, rising to £3m in 2016 / 2017. I am told the council is looking at funding sources post 2017.

So how will the scheme work? Well, for a start,  you need to be a resident of Cornwall for three years to qualify. If you meet the criteria, a pre paid card will be supplied which they can use to pay for an agreed range of goods and services that support the costs of learning and the hidden costs of studying at university. The amount of the payment has still to be confirmed,, but the current recommendation is for this to be set at £30. This can be topped up by parents, guardians and other family members. To be honest, whilst an one-off payment of £30 is nice, it is hardly going to make going to University more affordable. I feel it is a token gesture.

However, the real good news is students with a household income up to £42,600 can also apply for additional financial support from two further strands of funding. Both these areas of funding are discretionary and will be subject to several specific criteria, which includes the type of course to be studied (there will be a strong focus on economic priority subjects) and place of study, with funding specifically targeted towards students applying for the more selective universities and courses.

The two additional discretionary strands are:

  • Widening Participation – open to any student attending a non Sutton Trust 30 institution who meets the eligibility criteria. Eligible students will be able to apply for up to £1,200 per student living away from home (£900 per student living at home) over three years.
  • Raising Aspiration – open to any student attending a Sutton Trust 30 institution, who meets the eligibility criteria. Eligible students will be able to apply for £3,000 over three years.

I feel these two schemes will really make a difference in helping attending University more affordable. Of course it will not cover all the costs, but it will take the pressure off families who may struggle to find the extra money to help their children attend a University.

The proposed scheme will be discussed by members of the Council’s Children, Education and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee (which I am a member of) on 13th July. Their views will then be reported to the Council’s Cabinet which will make the final decision. If approved (no doubt it will be) it is expected to support up to 4,000 students per year. Mature students will also qualify for these schemes which is a sensible step too.

So well done Cornwall Council in taking the lead in trying to solve this problem. Maybe other authorities will copy Cornwall Council, so other students in other areas will find attending University more affordable.

Numbers of School Children in Cornwall

Statistics are not everyone’s cup of tea; so those who hate them look away now. The following statistics are on the numbers of children currently attending school within Cornwall. Also included in the figures are the number of children who are receiving free school meal, ethnicity and the number of children from service families. These has been collated as part of the Single Issue Panel looking into children’s readiness for school that I am a member of.

The total number of children between the in both primary school and secondary school is: 69,293

Primary School: 37644
Secondary: Age 11-15: 28471 – Ages 16-19: 3178 – Total 31,649

In receipt of free school meals: Primary: 5328 (14.15% of pupils); Secondary 3431 (10.84%)

Black and Ethnic Minority: Primary: 1922 (5.1%); Secondary: 1323 (4.2%)

Children from service families: Primary 1026 (2.7%); Secondary: 753 (2.4%)

Gypsy: Primary 85 (0.2%); Secondary 59 (0,2%)

A more detailed breakdown on the statistics can be found HERE.

Scrutinising the Cornish Bursary

The chance for Councillors of Cornwall Council to ask questions on the proposals for a Cornish Bursary took place today. Members of the OSC were requested to submit any questions prior to this meeting. This was to make sure detailed answers were provided. This did not mean further questions could not be asked. As many more were.

As I have said before, I think any scheme that helps young adults to stay in education is to be welcomed. Even with a good scheme, the job of the OSC is to make sure that scheme is fit for purpose, and if there are any doubts, these should be addressed before the scheme is implemented.

Many questions were asked included why Cornwall Council was only going to fund Level 3 courses (A-Levels, NVQ Level 3, BTEC etc). This is because the Government is providing £6m to cover Level 2 and under course. The Council felt this money would be better targeted in another area. In principle I can agree with this view, but my worry would be if any children miss out on level 2 course because there is not enough money from government.

The two questions I asked were on where this money for the first year was coming from, and how this scheme would be funded after the initial two year period. The first question was answered. It turns out there is some surplus in Convergence Money (skills funding agency). The council has checked to see the legal position on how this money could be spent. It turns out this surplus can be used for this scheme. Again, I welcome this.

The second question however did not have such a great answer. In fact, the answer got me quite angry and disappointed. You see, no money has been identified post the two year period. In a rather simplistic answer was ‘it would be the new councils problem.’ That point of the answer was the most upsetting. No matter how good a scheme it is let down by the simple fact of no, or very limited forward planning for funding!

Words of we will investigate areas of funding is hardly reassuring. If this scheme is such a good idea, then work now, before implementation, should be carried out; or at least highlighting possible areas of funding. This sadly was not the case.

After over two hours of debate with some very good point being made, as set of recommendations was made, and voted on.

  1. The Children, Education and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee (CEFOSC) should endorse the proposal for the Cornwall Bursary and its implementation in 2012/13
  2. A review of should the bursary include those studying Level 2 qualifications
  3. Request a written report/questionnaire to be provided at the end of the year on how the money has been used and the impact of the scheme.
  4. The OSC will see the eligibility criteria of each provider
  5. Review of the education provision of the 14-19 offer in North and SE Cornwall
  6. On going review of the funds and report back to the OSC after the first academic term
  7. Director of CSF to investigate other forms of funding for those who fall into the trap of the Cornwall/Devon border.

I voted in favour of this scheme because it is a very good idea. Yes, there are some issues, the biggest being the future funding, but with the OSC chasing up this issue I am happy something will be done about it.

The Government has failed to provide adequate provision for a bursary/EMA, so it is left to the council to pick up this. If not, many young adults will not be in the financial position to further their education.

Cornwall Council should be congratulated for taking the lead, and no doubt other authorities will follow Cornwall Council’s lead.

The Cornish Bursary

This Friday, the Children’s Schools and Families Scrutiny Committee (CSF) will discuss the idea of a Cornish Bursary to in parts replace the now reduced Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). Before the current coalition government brutally cut the existing scheme, Cornish students received £6.8m per year in EMA funding. Now, post the cut, this same fund equates to roughly £1.3m.

You don’t have to be a maths student to realise there is still a massive short-fall of £5.5m. Cornwall Council, Well, in truth the Cabinet have agreed a sum of £700,000 per year from 2012/13 to top up the government scheme. This funding will be available for those aged between 16-19 years old. The principle of this council bursary is supporting those most in need.  These include:

1. Young people resident in Cornwall aged 16 – 19 (Students aged under 19 on 31/08/12)
2. Studying a Level 3 Qualification (excluding Work Based Learning)
3. Should not be in receipt of the 16 – 19 Bursary (Government one) as one of the Guaranteed Learners:

• Currently in care
• Leaving care / recently left care
• In receipt of income support in their own name
• Are disabled & in receipt of both Employment Support Allowance & Disability Living Allowance

With any remaining funds, providers may then use their discretion to make awards to young people in ways that best fit the needs and circumstances of their students. Bursary awards should be targeted towards young people facing financial barriers to participation, such as the costs of transport, meals, books and equipment.

The Terms and Conditions of the Cornish Bursary can be found HERE. Also in the document are the authorised schools/colleges and the type of course you need to take to qualify.

On face value the scheme looks like a good idea. However, the money for this bursary has only been secured for two years from 2012/13 to 2013/14. What happens after this? How will the bursary be funded to carry on the potentially  good work in helping educating our children. This is my greatest worry.

It is all well and good starting something that will help, but if this has to stop only a few years later than there is a problem. At Fridays meeting I will be asking how this bursary will be funding post 2014.  And if this money is identified will any other service, or project lose out to continue the bursary.

My guess, and I have heard one or two rumours is the bursary will be funded from the money received from the solar panels Cornwall Council is having fitted to various buildings. Then again, this might not happen if the government slashes the FiT for these smaller projects.

Maybe, if the coalition government (and I blame both sides in it) did not cut the EMA, then Cornwall Council, and most probably many other authorities, would not have to make the hard choice of funding a bursary scheme at the expense of other services/projects.

Roll on Friday….



Corporate Resources Scrutiny Grills (on a light heat) the Leader and CEO

Something novel happened yesterday with the Corporate Scrutiny Committee inviting the CEO, Kevin Lavery and Alec Robertson, Leader of Cornwall Council facing questions from members of this committee. Those wishing it would be as exciting at the Leveson Inquiry, or the Culture and Media Select Committee grilling of the Murdock family would be disappointed as it was rather a tame event.
Even though it had no earth shattering news, many of the questions asked by members of this committee were very good. One of these was on Newquay Airport and the £5 airport development fee. I have always thought this fee tax was one step down from Dick Turpin asking for your valuables as you go about your business.
Anyway, the question was asked could this tax be stopped? The simple answer from the CEO was yes it could. One of the reasons why it could be stopped is because of the huge drop in passenger numbers over the last few years has made the airport less reliant on this money. The CEO said this could be looked into. I would welcome this as many feel this fee is wrong. Then again, looking into it does not mean it will stop.

Autism is not a label: it is a sign post

The Children’s Schools and Families Scrutiny Committee which I sit on, organised an information event on Autism. The first question asked by one of the speakers was ‘On a scale of 1 – 10 how would you rate your knowledge of the provision in Cornwall to support children with Autism?’ My answer was sadly one. Autism is something I have not had experience in, either with a family member, or a friend.

Because my knowledge on autism was so poor I was really looking forward to this event. The aim of the session was to raise awareness of Autism and the triad of differences; highlight the implications in the school setting, and to explain supportive strategies by both Cornwall Council and other organisations.

I was not disappointed as the information presented was spoken with passion from the various professionals and a parent there. I never knew it was estimated that 1 in a 100 will have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and individuals with Autism will have a common set of characteristics in communication, social interaction, imagination and flexibility of thought.

Many people with Autism will have more than one diagnosis with the most common being learning difficulties, dyspraxia, dyslexia and ACHD. However, it was pointed out that like all children are different, this is also true of children with ASD. Diagnosing ASD has vastly improved in the years, but it might not be identified until much later. I was told puberty was an important stage to diagnose ASD.

After listening to the professionals it was the turn of a parent with a child with ASD. After listening to what she said I was at first shocked, but also greatly admired her courage in overcoming lots of prejudices from people who were quick to blame bad parenting. She spoke of her frustrations with the system and how she had seen far too many professionals who asked the same questions over and over again.

She pointed out whilst a lot of professional help had been great, she had to sort out a lot of the issue herself due to lack of understanding. However, this had improved over the years and now there was a lot more help out there. The point was made of more joined up working between different organisations as this is one area that would help parents and people with ASD.

I was told those young people with ASD are more easily taken advantage of and this is reflected in a high levels of people with ASD are in the criminal justice system.

Those present were told of the good work that is currently being undertaken and how this was going to improve over the coming years with support and money being put in this area. Of course there is no magic wand to wave, nor unlimited pots of money, but what the various organisations are trying to do is a good sign this area is being given some priority.

This event was open to all Cornwall Councillors, but sadly only twelve turned up. I know people’s diaries are busy and people have to prioritise, but I am pleased I attended this event as it gave me a greater understanding in this area.

Lastly, I was asked the question on a scale of 1 – 10 my knowledge was now. I would now say now 2-3. Still a long way to go, but it is better than where I started at the beginning.

Child Poverty Work Sits on a Shelf

At Last weeks Children Education and Families Scrutiny Committee (CSF) I raised a question on the work carried out by a Single Issue Panel (SIP) on Child Poverty. The CSF committee submitted its findings and recommendations via the full council. This was because the committee felt this important issue should have the wider support of all Councillors.

However, it is the Cabinet  who will make the final decision  due to the budgetary implications and the need for approval of extra spending, especially for the role of a Strategic Lead to actually tackle this huge issue.

It turns out under further questioning to senior officers and Cabinet Member that no extra funding has even been earmarked to tackle this. Even at the recent Star Chamber this very issue was not even discussed. Which I can only interpret as no extra money will be set aside. The Star Chamber process is the councils yearly senior officer and Portfolio Holder meetings which looks at the future budget, and where money will be spent.

There is good work currently being carried out to tackle Child Poverty by the council, Councillors and other agencies, but this needs to be done on a larger, more strategic plan. In the SIPs findings, it highlighted after seven months work for this Strategic Lead to be appointed if anything is ever going to change.

The CSF committee was rightly annoyed and has sent a strong message back to Cabinet to address this issue. The recommendation to Cabinet is:

The Committee expresses its frustration and disappointment that key recommendations of the Deprivation and Child Poverty Single Issue Panel have so far been ignored and not progressed further in any way.

Let’s see if anything changes.

Is a Fixed Spring Break a Step Closer?

For the last 18 months I have been trying, with the support of others to get Cornwall Council to look into the feasibility of setting a fixed Spring Break. As we all know this moves yearly due to moons and certain days in the religious calendar. A year ago I finally got Cornwall Council to start to talk to other local authorities and our own schools.

At today’s Children, School and Families Scrutiny Committee (CSF) there was a report with the findings of  recent letter and questionnaire sent to Cornish Schools asking if they felt the Spring Break should be fixed. 73 school replied and all but five said the Spring Break should be fixed. Granted not all schools replied, but out of those who did was an over all will to at least look into changing it.

I made a further recommendation to Cabinet:

The CSF Committee recommends that Cornwall Council’s Cabinet undertake a formal consultation on the proposal of moving to a Fixed Spring Break.

This was fully supported by the committee with the add-on from the Chairman of this consultation should be undertaken as quick as possible. Sometimes the wheels at Cornwall Council turn slowly, but at least they turn.

Inquiry Day for Concessionary Bus Fares

There will be an inquiry day to look at Concessionary bus fares on the 19th August at County Hall, Truro. This is likely to be an all day event starting at 10 am.

This has come about from a recommendation from the Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee which took place on the 27th July.

It is likely to be a lively affair and one I hope will be webcast due to the controversial nature of the subject.

Noise, Chickens and Cocks

One of the items at today’s Communities Scrutiny Meeting was about Statutory Noise Nuisance. It is a given that no one likes to be subjected to unnecessary noise, especially during the night period. The difficulty is what consists as a noise nuisance. That item agenda can be found HERE

I know from my licensing experience if a establishment becomes a problem with noise they are dealt with generally via the courts, or through a review process under the Licensing Act. Loud music is one thing, but a recent case for a Noise Abatement Order surrounds chickens. This is because a 1050 name petition in support of a resident who has chickens and has been served an Abatement Order.

Near two hours of the Committee’s time were spent talking about noise and chickens and what constitutes a nuisance.  I don’t want to get into the detail of the case because there could be further legal actions by the interested parties.

However, my view is if you live near a farm you should expect the odd mooing or other farm noises. It is the same if you live next to an airfield. You can hardly complain about aircraft flying overhead.

In fact, living in a rural area you will hear rural noises, like you would hear urban noises if you live in a city. If you move into a city or rural area then you can’t expect to have everything changed. If you don’t like the mooing or crowing, then don’t move.

I live in an area that has a lot of loud seagulls. I don’t like being woken up by them chatting away, but I accept it because I live right next to the coast.

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