Not actually much of a U turn
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 Discretionary fund worth £26m had been operating, and this is being topped up to £180m 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.
The Government says that evaluation evidence from the EMA pilots as well as more recent research from NFER 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 represented 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
The media has represented this as another U turn by Gove, although its hard to see why, given that the Government had made it clear last year, after the election,(yes, Cameron had supported the EMA before the election) that although the EMA was being abolished it would announce, this month, a new downsized fund that was more carefully targeted and focused on the most disadvantaged, which is pretty much what has happened. So there is less money available for fewer students but this was flagged up last year, so it can hardly be described as a U turn.
However, the Institute of Fiscal Studies has had a look at the figures following the announcement and says that the poorest students at schools and colleges will on average lose £370 of their current £1,170-a-year support money.