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.”


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