EMA-THE DEBATE CONTINUES
Lords debate identifies continuing worries over support for the most disadvantaged pupils in the wake of EMA abolition
Lord Willis, in the Lords on 4 April, challenged evidence about the efficacy of the EMA. He said that the most reliable source of evidence about the effectiveness of EMAs came from “the CfBT Education Trust 2009 research project. Should we end the Education Maintenance Allowance?, which clearly showed the success of the programme”.
This is backed by “the mountain of direct survey evidence from the AoC, the 157 Group and from schools, demonstrating the crucial part that EMAs have played in providing support for students, especially for travel and equipment and particularly for vocational courses”.
However, significantly, Lord Willis did not call for the EMA scheme to be retained. Instead, he called for “the restoration of more of the £570 million that the scheme currently spends so that a wider group of students can be supported. Without a larger bursary fund we cannot start to tackle issues such as travel costs, which are one of the largest obstacles to participation and retention post 16.” He pointed out too that while there is a widespread belief that 16 to 19 financial support is simply limited to EMAs; it is not. There are two other significant sources of financial support: 16 to 19 child benefit and 16 to 19 child tax credit, which are treated not as education but as social security. “
Lord Willis said “They are paid only on condition that young people are in full-time education or unwaged training. Parents with 16 to 19 year-olds in jobs, apprenticeships, part-time education and those not in education, employment and training-the NEET group-do not receive child benefit or child tax credit. That is, some 15 per cent of all 16 to 18 year-olds. I am inviting the Minister to view 16 to 19 child benefit and 16 to 19 child tax credit as financial support for education, not simply for social security.”
Lord Hill, responding for the Government, said “I do not accept the picture painted by my noble friend Lord Willis of Knaresborough and the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, about the research into the impact of the EMA. This was not research conveniently commissioned by the new Government; it was commissioned by the previous Government to be carried out by a number of different research bodies. It seems that it was found that some 10 per cent of those in receipt of the EMA said that they would not have participated without it, yet it was paid to almost 45 per cent of young people at a cost of around £560 million.” As far as the EMA was concerned and the £180m fund to replace it he said “Rather than paying nearly half of all students an incentive to stay in learning when it is becoming compulsory, we argue that we should concentrate our resources on removing the barriers to learning which are faced by the poorest.” He continued “As a result of that additional funding and the funding that we have found from within the DfE budget, 12,000 students-those in care, care leavers and those receiving income support-should receive an annual bursary of £1,200 if they stay on in education. All those young people who began courses in 2009-10 and who were given a guarantee by the previous Government that they would receive EMA will still receive their weekly payments. Young people who started courses in 2010-11 and received the maximum weekly payment of £30 should now receive weekly payments of at least £20 until the end of the next academic year. In addition, those students will be eligible for support from the new post-16 bursary scheme. That can help to cover the costs of travel, food and equipment, particularly for poorer students and those in rural areas where transport is an issue. One hundred and eighty million pounds will be available for that bursary fund.”
Schools and colleges will have the freedom said Lord Hill, to decide on the allocation of the bursary as they are best placed to know the specific needs of their students. However the Government, he confirmed, are consulting on the scheme which will take eight weeks. Lord Hill concluded by saying “ We believe that our package of measures and reforms, starting with the pupil premium, working through school, increasing the number of apprenticeships, funding post-16-which has increased-and providing a targeted package of support for 16 to 18 year-olds, will help to bring that greater participation about.”
So, the Governments approach is that while the funding support has been significantly reduced the support that is now available is now much better targeted at those who are most in need of it and decisions have now been devolved to Heads and Principals ie those closest to students who have a better understanding of their needs than bureaucrats . There are also a number of other additional measures in place to support the most disadvantaged learners.
Note: The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was introduced in England in 2004 as a means-tested allowance to support young people’s participation in full-time education. In academic year 2009-10 638,793 young people aged 16-19 received EMAs at a total cost of £553 million. Depending on the level of household income, young people receive weekly EMA payments of £30, £20 or £10. EMA recipients receive bonuses for remaining on their learning programme, making good progress and achieving against their learning goals. On 28 March 2011 the Government announced a new £180 million bursary scheme which, from September 2011, will be targeted towards those young people who most need support to enable them to continue their education and training post-16, together with transitional arrangements to help the majority of those who are presently in receipt of EMA.
The most vulnerable young people-whether or not they are currently in receipt of education maintenance allowance (EMA)-will be eligible in 2012/13 for a bursary of £1,200. Any other students who were in receipt of EMA in 2011/12 and are continuing in post-16 education or training for a third year in 2012/13 will be eligible to apply for support from the 16-19 Bursary Fund in the third year of their studies. Decisions as to which students receive support will be made by schools, colleges and training providers.
Although the Opposition has heavily criticised the Government changes to the EMA ,the EMA would have gone in 2015 under their own plans. Alan Johnson in 2007 when Secretary of State for Education said that the education maintenance allowances (EMAs) would no longer be necessary when the age is raised in 2015. Giving evidence to the Education and Skills Select Committee inquiry into 14-19 education, Alan Johnson said: “The EMA is there as an incentive to stay on. We will not need to incentivise after 2015.”
EMA –NOT ALL IS AS IT AT FIRST SEEMS
The Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham probably didn’t much help the case for EMAs just before the Commons debate. On the BBC on 18 January Reeta Chakrabarti put it to him that: “…there is anecdotal evidence that sometimes EMA money isn’t just spent on books and transport but on clothes, nights out and even gym membership.”
In reply the Shadow Education Secretary let slip: “Yes, they may spend some of it on food and even the occasional time out with friends…”
The Government has argued that 88% of those currently eligible for EMA would continue to study if EMA were to be removed. Some 650,000 teenagers—almost half of all youngsters in post-compulsory education—claim the allowance. But a survey published on 18 January (interviewing 700 students) by the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, found that 70% of students who receive the EMA would drop out of college if it is withdrawn, and that 63% receive no help from their families to meet study costs. Some experts argue that it doesn’t really matter too much what students spend EMA on providing it keeps them engaged and attending their courses. ie it keeps them out of the NEET category. The Institute for Fiscal Studies believes that you should treat the so called deadweight costs argument (students would participate in education or training even if the EMA was not available) with caution. It thinks that channelling £560m a year into poor families is on balance worthwhile, calculating that the money wasted on the 88% of recipients who would have attended college anyway was outweighed by the savings made (in welfare benefits) on the 12% who wouldn’t have. But, and this seems to me important, the Department for Education doesn’t know what percentage of those on EMA earn money working and doesn’t seem to have attempted to find out. “We don’t collect that information,” a spokesman told journalist Iain Martin recently. The department hasn’t conducted a study to try and establish even a rough estimate that might help guide policy making that should, ideally, be evidence based. But, as Martin points out ,the Government hands all that money out (£560 million) to 16-18 year olds in education while having no idea if they have any income of their own. Instead the test is simply whether the parent earns less than around £20,000 (in which case the child can claim £30 a week), between £20,000 and £25,000 (£20) and £25,000-30,000 (£10). More than £30,000 and they get naught. There is surely an argument, given the straitened circumstances ,to ensure that support is better targeted and goes to those most in need.
While the opposition berate the coalition for getting rid of the EMA ,they forget to remind students that they were planning to get rid of the EMA as well, once ,that is , the leaving age had been raised to 18, according to evidence given to the Education Select Committee in 2007, by the then Secretary of State, Alan Johnson
The Government is abolishing the EMA because it says that evaluation evidence from the EMA pilots as well as more recent research suggests that around 90% of recipients would have stayed on after age 16 even if they had not received EMA. It therefore is not affordable it claims in the current financial climate. The 643,000 young people who received EMA in 2009/10 represent around 32% of all 16-18 year olds in England , or 47% of those in full-time education. Up to the end of December 2010 603,000 students were in receipt of EMA.
From September 2011 the enhanced learner support fund replaces EMA and ‘will be administered by schools and colleges, enabling them to support those young people who face a real financial barrier to participation.’ Currently £26m per year is given to schools, colleges and training providers (a ‘discretionary learner support’ fund) to enable them to make small payments to young people to help them meet the costs of learning. After the EMA is abolished this fund will be increased. No decision yet though on how much funding will be made available under the Enhanced Learner Support Fund, for 2011/2 . A decision is expected this March .
The purpose of discretionary funding is to provide exceptional support to learners aged 16 and above, who are experiencing financial difficulty with meeting costs associated with learning.
The funds are prioritised for those who face financial hardship. They can be used to help with:
financial hardship and emergencies
childcare costs (for Ofsted-registered childcare)
accommodation costs, for those who have to study further than the maximum distance from home
essential course-related equipment, materials and field trips
travel costs (for over 18s)
From 2011/12, decisions regarding the ‘enhanced discretionary fund’ will be made locally, enabling, the Government says, ‘ schools, colleges and training providers to target support at those young people in greatest need.’ The new funds will be available from the start of the 2011/12 academic year but it is highly unlikely that the amount of funding available under EMA (£580m 2008/9) will be remotely matched by that which will be available under the Enhanced Learner Support Funding arrangements.
(Source Hansard ;10 January 2011)
Note up-date; PS
The government has just announced (28 March) a £180m bursary scheme to replace the Education Maintenance Allowances which were scrapped in England last year. The £560m EMA scheme had provided up to £30 a week to help low-income students stay on at sixth forms and colleges. Education Secretary Michael Gove said the revised system would provide a “more targeted” support system. The new bursaries consist of a guaranteed annual payment of £1,200 to about 12,000 16 to 19-year-olds who are in care, have left care or are on income support.The remaining £165m will provide a fund that schools and colleges can spend on a discretionary basis, with college principals able to decide the level of grant, how frequently it is paid and any conditions attached, such as behaviour or attendance.
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