This is not very publishingy, and it's entirely a UK-oriented post. Sorry! Back to authorly strops soon ;-)
There has - rightly - been a lot of fuss about the increase in student fees. But there has been a lot less about the abolition of the EMA - Education Maintenance Allowance. This pays £30 a week to students from poor backgrounds who want to stay on at sixth form. If you live in a city, where the sixth form college is within striking distance from your home, this might seem (as some have called it) bribing kids to stay in education. It's not. It's an essential life-line for kids who otherwise couldn't afford to stay on. For a student who lives in a more rural area, where there isn't a sixth form within cycling distance, the EMA is a passport to A levels and perhaps (if they still dare go) to university. It pays the bus fare or the train fare without which the student couldn't get to college (there is no free transport after year 11, and no half fares).
My younger daughter will be starting sixth form in September. She has friends who are already in sixth form who depend on the EMA. She has a friend who is in her year, who lives out in the fens, who won't be able to afford the £25 a week it will cost her to get into the city to attend sixth form. So no A levels, then. Because she's poor. My daughter won't get/need EMA but even here, in a relatively wealthy area, she can name people who will be forced to leave education just because they are poor. And what? Live on benefit? How is that an improvement, even for the bean-counters?
These kids are our readers. They are the same kids who depend on libraries because they can't buy many books. They are the generation we have devoted our working lives to and for all the inspiration and passion we have tried to encourage in them, their future is to be snatched away. They won't need to worry about whether the university fees cap is £6000 or £9000 because they're not even going to get near the application form for university.
When the figures for university applications from students from poorer backgrounds come out in a few years, you can be pretty sure they will be shown as a percentage of kids from poorer backgrounds in sixth forms. So guess what? The figures won't look too bad, the ConDems will be vindicated in their claim that it didn't put off poorer students from applying. But it will be because poorer students don't have A levels. Please spread the word, write to your MP, make sure people are aware that our very poorest children are being excluded from university one step back, with A levels (or diplomas, or the IB).
And here is a post that explains why the figures don't add up and EMA is more effective than the alternatives.