Morley Observer Column

I know the decision by governors at Morley’s Joseph Priestley College to draw up plans for a merger with Leeds City College was not an easy one. Joseph Priestley has remained an independent college for school leavers and adult learners in South Leeds for more than 50 years while other colleges have given up their identity or even closed.

This week I met the College’s principal, Sally Blunt, about the proposed merger, which is currently open to consultation. Now is the right time to consider the merger plans which have been set out. Sally told me the proposals will mean more choice for students in Morley and across South Leeds, and more expertise in subject areas, while administration costs will be reduced.

Further education colleges, like all publicly funded bodies, are feeling the squeeze right now. But the government cut Sally Blunt is most worried about is not a cut to her own budget, but the effect of axing the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) paid directly to around 65% of Joseph Priestly students.

At the Queen Street IT Learning Centre, one of two buildings which make up the college’s Morley campus, Sally introduced me to local students who get the allowance – some of the 9,000 across Leeds who do. They told me that EMA helps them to pay bus fares, and to buy books and equipment. For some students, the weekly payment of up to £30 makes the difference between being able to come to college to get the skills and qualifications needed to get a good job, and leaving education at 16.

Of course savings have to be made. But experts agree that the short term cash saving made by axing EMA is outweighed by the long term cost of allowing students with massive potential and bright futures to drop out of education and training.

So I’ll be pushing the government to think again on scrapping EMAs, and to put in place support to help young people stay in education. I want all young people to have the chance to stay on at school, go to college, get an apprenticeship or do some training while at work.

And despite the challenges, I agree with Sally Blunt that now is an exciting time for Joseph Priestley College as they, together with Leeds City College, plan for the next 50 years of educational opportunities across South Leeds.

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Posted March 15th, 2011 by Ed's team