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Can’t afford sixth form? This scheme could help you out

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Freya Marshall, a sixth form student from Hertfordshire, gets £1,200 a year to help pay for travel to school and the resources she needs for her A-level courses.

She’s entitled to the money through a bursary scheme aimed at 16- to 19-year-olds in England who are in education and apprenticeships – but she had to do her homework to find out about it.

“I didn’t know the bursary existed before I started sixth form and my school wasn’t helpful at all, they didn’t explain anything,” she says.

Unlike university students, college and sixth form students are not given government student loans to fund their education, but are still required to provide themselves with many of the resources they need to do their course.

According to OneFamily, the average teenager spends £54 a week, ranging from £13 at age 13 to £68 at age 19. But like Marshall, they may qualify for some help with the spending that’s essential to them completing their education.

The 16-19 bursary is money set aside by the government to help students who are at school, college or on an unpaid training course. The grant helps with education-related costs, such as clothing, books, equipment for a course, transport, educational visits, and lunch on school days. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own education maintenance allowances, with different policies and rules.

There are two types of 16-19 bursary: one for students in vulnerable groups, and the other a discretionary payment, both of which have to be applied for via the school, sixth form or education/training provider.

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Under the first, students are entitled to up to £1,200 a year. They can only claim the second if they are not entitled to the first.

Marshall says the process was “pretty simple”, but “gathering all the documents and filling out the form was incredibly time-consuming”.

The basics

For both bursaries, there are criteria that students have to meet. To qualify for either of them, a student must:

be aged 16 or over but under 19 on the 31 August of that year – students aged 19 or over are only eligible to receive a discretionary bursary if they are continuing on a course they started between 16 and 18 or have an education, health and care plan (EHCP); and

meet residency criteria outlined by the scheme.

To qualify for the bursary for vulnerable groups, students need to be:

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in care or care leavers; or

receiving income support or universal credit because they are financially supporting themselves and/or someone who is dependent on them and living with them such as a child or partner; or

receiving disability living allowance or personal independence payments as well as employment and support allowance or universal credit in their own right.

You will need to provide evidence that you meet one of these criteria. If you do, you may be eligible to receive the full amount of up to £1,200 a year if you are participating in a study programme that lasts for 30 weeks or more.

If you do not qualify for the vulnerable student bursary, you may be eligible for a discretionary bursary. Your college or training provider will set its own criteria for this and will look at your guardian’s/parental income among other things. The criteria varies a lot from place to place and year to year, so it is worth checking what happens where you study. Most places tend to publish their eligibility criteria on their website or provide guidance in person.

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It tends to cover expenses such as bus passes, free meals, and kit or equipment costs. Payments are usually made in termly instalments. However, schools can set rules on students applying for the bursary, such as having full school attendance, good behaviour and making significant progress in studies. Some schools have a deadline early in the academic year, but others accept applications at any time, until the money has gone.

The only way to apply for either is through your school, college or training provider. You will need to fill in a form and supply evidence of your parents’ or guardians’ income.

Students in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

If you are outside England you may still be able to get financial help. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland offer education maintenance allowances (EMAs) for the same age group. The allowance is worth £30 a week, which is paid fortnightly directly into your bank account. But the rules on household income are different for each country.

In Scotland, you need to have a household income of under £24,421 or £26,884 if there are two or more children in the house who are under 16, or under 24 and are in full-time education or training.

In Wales, you need to have a household income of under £20,817, or £23,077 if there are two or more children in the house who are under 16, or under 25 and in full-time education or training.

In Northern Ireland, you need a household income of under £20,500, or £22,500 if there are two or more children in the house who are 16 or under, or under 20 and in full-time education or training.

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In England, for the 16-19 bursary there are no set rules on income. Providers of the discretionary bursary can set their own. For example, Newcastle city council has two levels of discretionary bursary based on household incomes. A student from a family earning £21,858 a year or less can receive £15 a week while in year 12 or £18.28 a week while in year 13 or 14, while one whose family earns £27,000 or less can qualify for £10.00 a week while in year 12, or £12.19 while in year 13 or 14.