Disadvantaged Sheffield children hit hardest by new student loan rules

Written by Emily Davies

New government rules for student loans have been labelled as an “attack on students from low socio-economic backgrounds” and with disabilities.

The plans say that people who don’t have English and Maths GCSEs at grade 4, or two A-levels at grade E, won’t be able to take out a student loan.

According to the Department for Education, there will be a consultation on these proposals that came in response to the Augar Review of over-18s education.

However, there are concerns about how this will affect people from working class backgrounds and those with disabilities and learning disorders trying to go to university.

In Sheffield, 60% of students achieved a grade 4 or above, according to the latest data. This means just under half of the children in the city wouldn’t have qualified for a student loan in 2019 if these rules had been in place.

It is also much less likely for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to pass their English and Maths GCSE’s, as their parents cannot pay for extra tutoring. 

Alexandra Lacey is a psychology student and qualified therapist

Alexandra Lacey, 23, is a psychology student who is autistic and has dyscalculia. She said: “Math was always something that I really struggled with. The only reason I managed to pass my GCSE math is because my parents could afford private tutoring, and not everybody has that luxury. People who have dyslexia and dyscalculia and autism who don’t come from a privileged background are going to be left out.”

She thinks that basing the student loan access on A-levels would be much fairer: “I was always under the impression that if you didn’t get the A-levels, you didn’t go to university. 

“I just think it’s unfair for students who have dyscalculia or dyslexia or autism to be left out. I would not have passed GCSE math if I wasn’t tutored from the age of eight onwards.

“I get that it’s a cost cutting measure, but it’s kind of classist because if you can’t afford the tutoring then you’re not going to pass, and its ableist because you’re discriminating against these kinds of people.”

In England, the academic performance of students from working class backgrounds is much lower than others. This is according to a report from the Department for Education, and many students feel that these new rules will mean less disadvantaged students will be able to go to university.

This applies in Sheffield, with data showing that disadvantaged children are significantly less likely to achieve the required GCSE grades on average.

Thomas Hopkins, 18, is a student at the University of Sheffield who is autistic and working class. He thinks that the new rules will obstruct the route to university even more for people like him.

“This is an absolute attack on students from low socio-economic backgrounds because it’s not stopping people from going to university full stop. It’s stopping the access to student loans. If your family can afford to send you to university, pay for your accommodation, pay for your tuition, then this isn’t going to change anything for you. 

“This just stops children who are maybe like me, who are dyslexic, maybe on the autistic spectrum, who may have dyscalculia and may struggle in math. It’s going to completely affect working class families who can’t provide the difference in the cost. They rely on student loans to make university as it should be – accessible.”

He described it as a “war on the arts” for students who want to study music or art and don’t necessarily need a math or English GCSE.

However, he did say his university is quite diverse. But he thinks this is because it’s a Northern university.

“I think it’s just trying to price people out of university.”

Soon after these plans came out, the government also announced potentially reducing the minimum wage bracket for repaying student loans from £27,000 to £25,000, with the repayment period being increased from 30 years to 40 years.

This means some students will still be repaying their loans when they’re starting to think about retiring, bringing more criticism on the government for being biased against low-income families.

Written by Emily Davies

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