Jury is out on how changes to further education are affecting pupils

Colleges in Norfolk today (Thursday) admitted it had been a tough year for attracting pupils to study with them – but said it was too soon to come to any conclusions about the state of further education in the county.

It comes as the Association of Colleges said nearly half of the country's further education colleges had experienced a drop in pupil numbers this year.

Financial pressure on teenagers – following the scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance – was given as one of the main reasons.

Yet its figures for the East of England showed those colleges which had responded to its survey – 13 of 32 – had actually seen a very small rise in numbers, up 0.2pc.

Today (Thursday), principals at Norfolk colleges said it was too soon to know for certain what affect the many changes in further education had had on pupils' decisions to continue their studies.

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At City College Norwich, principal Dick Palmer said the college was confident it would hit its target of nearly 5,000 young people this year but had found it 'more difficult' to recruit.

He put it down to 'a range of factors including, critically, the loss of the EMA'.

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For East Norfolk Sixth Form College it has been a mixed picture with some courses seeing an increase in numbers and others a drop.

Principal Laurie Poulson said overall the college was slightly down on the 2010 enrolment but, with a new sixth form college opened in nearby Lowestoft, it was impossible to know whether that was down to students deciding not to study, or choosing to learn elsewhere.

Mr Poulson said EMA, a difficult jobs market, university fee increases, and a move towards more apprenticeships could all be affecting students' choices.

At the College of West Anglia, the number of 16 to 18-year-olds studying there this year is 'more or less on a par' with last year.

It said the abolition of EMA and rising transport costs had made it difficult for some pupils but the college was working hard to support those students on low incomes.

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