Thursday 16 August 2018
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"How many children have missed out...because they were told something wrong?"

Friday 10 August 2018

At the end of a week in which her daughter got the news she had been waiting for - her place at a specialist dance school will be grant-funded - the mother of a 16-year-old dancer tells Express that doubts still remain over the financial information given to her by the Education Department. She is now urging other parents in a similar position to make sure they double-check all the information they are given.

Known only as Mrs X in order to protect her daughter's identity, she says she received a standard print out indicating the funding had been agreed for her daughter's dance school course for year 1 - but there's nothing confirming if it will be available for the whole degree.

Mrs X's daughter has been dancing since she was four, and has been solely 'ballet-focused' since the age of 12, and she looked to continue in higher education. But with fees reaching £13,800 - over £4,000 more than the standard university grant - Mrs X decided to do some research about what funding would be available before embarking on any auditions.

She says contacted the Student Finance Department in October 2017 and was told that her daughter would receive the standard grant. "But on top of that the department offered a bursary which would have made up the shortfall of £4,550. When I made the formal application, the bursary had been taken out and I was left to contribute that money."

Mrs X appealed the decision, but she says the Education Department dismissed it. She then took the issue to the States Complaints Board, chaired by Geoffrey Crill, who found that the decision to “withdraw the offer of a bursary to ‘top up’ [a student’s] fees for a specialised course was unjust, oppressive and improperly discriminatory.”

Jeremy macon

Pictured: Deputy Jeremy Maçon is the Assistant Education Minister. 

Thinking she was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when Deputy Jeremy Maçon, the Acting Education Minister, told her she would get a notification soon, Mrs X says it hasn't been as straightforward as hoped. She told Express: "Deputy Maçon said (Education Minister) Tracey Vallois and him had a bit of a battle with the officers but that funding had been agreed. I later received an email which confirmed this and said a hard copy would be printed the following day.

"I have that confirmation but it is just a standard print out. It says my daughter will get £13,800 of funding but at the top it says Year 1. There is no mention of the rest of the degree. I am presuming she will get funding for the whole degree but I shouldn't have to presume. What if there is a change of officers? I want a letter in black and white to which I can refer. This is too vague, after all I have been through I still haven't got the clarification I expected." 

When Mrs X told her daughter she had received the print out about the funding, she started crying. "I tried to protect her, she had her GCSE's so I wanted her to focus on that. Since her GCSE's are finished she has known a bit more. I think it had all been building up and when I told her, bless her, she burst into tears. My faith in the department is shattered so I am waiting to have something in black and white to rejoice. I have been so deep down in all, it was such a long battle, I want to be happy but I haven't reacted as positively as I would have thought."

Mrs X says she never tried to twist the law, she did her research and relied on the legislation to secure the funding her daughter needed. "I used the information I had gleaned myself and with the help of Nicola Heath (of the Student Loan Support Group), who has been a stalwart and supported me to the end. 

"The problem is that I believe some officers didn't know the legislation. I had to tell them what the law said and they still didn't get it. It was just constant errors. It is worrying because those individuals have the future of the island's children in their hands and they give out incorrect or inadequate information to the parents. How many have been turned down? How many children have missed out on going to the school of their choice because they were told something wrong?"

dance ballet

Pictured: Mrs X says every career choice should be equal.

While delighted that her daughter got the funding she needs, Mrs X says she cannot help thinking about those who didn't. "Nobody should have to go through what I have been through. My advice to parents whose children are embarking on higher education, whatever the course, is: do all your research before you embark on the interviews. Do everything by email when contacting the Education Department so that you have a paper trail. After all of this, I am so glad I had that paper trail to refer to when I thought I was going to crack up.

"Get the full stop, get them to define what they say. We assume or presume what they say because the wording lacks clarity but we shouldn't have to."

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