WHAT ABOUT THE EMA?
In 2004/05 the Government introduced a national system of means-tested allowances of between £10 and £30 per week for young people continuing in full-time education post- 16. The Education Maintenance Allowance, or EMA as it was called, was intended to increase the participation of young people in post compulsory learning by providing a financial incentive to attend school or college. Supporters claim that there is robust evidence that EMAs have increased participation and achievement among 16 and 17 year olds, and contributed to improved motivation and performance. Although the official line is that the EMA is awarded so that students may off-set the cost of books, stationery or clothing some educationalists care little about what the grants are spent on as long as the students learn the benefits of application and regular attendance as a result. .Alan Johnson the Shadow Chancellor claims that EMAs have been ‘the single biggest contributor to increasing the number of children from poorer backgrounds that stay on in education’ .The Institute for Fiscal Studies agrees. It found that the EMA’s impact was ‘quite substantial’, increasing the share of young men eligible for the benefit staying in education by 7.4 percentage points and women by 5.9 percentage points. Mick Fletcher, an education consultant specialising in the planning and funding of post-14 learning, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Education, University of London a supporter of EMAs thought that EMA bonuses should actually be extended to all learners and be the basis for a fully integrated system of support for 14–19 year olds ( See CFBT Education Trust Report –Should we end EMA)
In addition, RCU Market Research Services carried out research on the national scheme and published a report called Evaluation of the EMA National Roll-out 2007 which concluded: “EMA is reducing Neet (those Not in Employment Education or Training) and also motivating learners to work harder.” Probably the most direct attack on EMAs to appear was contained in a 2008 paper by the think tank Policy Exchange called ‘Schools Funding and Social Justice’ In it the authors, Sam Freedman ( now a policy adviser to Gove) and Simon Horner, claim that: ‘money could be found by scrapping the £550 million Education Maintenance Allowance – a means-tested weekly payment of up to £30 for students in post- 16 education. This has had only a minimal impact on participation and attainment and will, in any case, become defunct once the education leaving age is raised to 18.’ According to the Policy Exchange much of the EMA is ‘deadweight’; that is, a payment that has no impact on the problem it is intended to address; and after RPA it will become 100% deadweight: ‘the EMA is, in effect, a massive deadweight cost – providing payment to 46% of learners, the vast majority of whom would have been in post-16 education in any case. Once new government legislation to make 16–18 education or training compulsory comes into force in 2013 the entire cost of the EMA will effectively become deadweight. As young people will have to participate anyway, it can have no positive incentive effect.’
However, the Coalition had committed itself early on to protecting the Education Maintenance Allowance. It then changed its mind. According to announcements made in the CSR the Educational Maintenance Allowance, previously worth £564m will be dramatically pruned and shifted to support those who face genuine ‘financial barriers to participation’, distributed in future by heads (cost £50m). But the details are not yet clear . It seems the funding has been diverted to support the Pupil Premium where the Coalition feels it might be better spent to support the disadvantaged. The Lib Dems asserted in opposition that the funds allocated to EMA could be better spent and are strong supporters of the Premium. Meanwhile Mathew Taylor of the RSA is asking pensioners who can afford it to donate their winter fuel allowance (WFA) to sustaining 16-18 year old students who will, from next year, lose their Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMA).
The coalition will continue Labour’s plan to raise the age at which students can leave education from 16 to 18 by 2015. All pupils will have to be in a training post or education until the end of the school year in which they turn 17 from 2013, and until the end of the year in which they turn 18 from 2015. This will cost an estimated £774m per year. Professor Alison Wolf has argued that raising the school leaving age ‘will not help our most marginalised young people. Instead, it is likely to further disadvantage them … A policy of coercing them into continued participation is at odds with everything we know about the links between motivation and learning’.