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Maintenance allowance axed in £500m budget raid

FE news | Published in TES Newspaper on 22 October, 2010 | By: Joseph Lee

Chancellor seizes funds to finance plans to raise participation age to 18 by 2015

Education maintenance allowance (EMA) will be scrapped in order to fund the compulsory education and training of all under-19s.

A replacement programme of targeted support for those most in need is likely to have a budget just a fraction of the size of EMA, as the Government seeks to save £500 million of the total £574 million budget.

George Osborne, the chancellor, told the House of Commons: “We will fund an increase in places for 16 to 19-year-olds, and raise the participation age to 18 by the end of the Parliament - and that enables us to replace education maintenance allowances with more targeted support.”

The Department for Education justified the decision by saying that evaluations of the allowance showed that 90 per cent of the money was “dead weight”, going to students who would have attended anyway.

But an Institute for Fiscal Studies report said EMA was a significant factor in improving staying-on rates in education, particularly for boys and for the poorest students. It said it had boosted participation by around six percentage points.

Child benefit for 16 to 18-year-olds, which is also claimed by parents wealthier than EMA claimants, is to be retained at a cost of £1.8 billion.

It is also not clear if the £500 million saving will be enough to fund full participation by under-19s by 2015, as the Government has promised. The former Department for Children, Schools and Families estimated the cost would be £774 million, while Professor Alison Wolf, now recruited by the Government to review vocational education, estimated that the real figure could be double that, at £1.5 billion.

While the total budget for 16-to-19 education will increase in real terms, increased participation will cause the funding per student to fall, the chancellor admitted.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) has called on the Government to protect its members’ budgets and reduce the higher rate of funding for schools first.

A source in the Department for Education said they were “sympathetic” but no decision had yet been made about how to implement lower rates of funding, or modelling carried out on the impact for individual schools and colleges.

Colleges are particularly concerned about EMAs because they teach 69 per cent of students receiving support. In some, such as Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College in Birmingham, more than three quarters of students come from families earning under about £20,000, and are eligible for the maximum grant.

Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive of the AoC, said that tackling inefficient small school sixth forms and levelling funding between schools and colleges could save £250 million.

He said: “We are concerned about the prospects of students from poorer families following the announcement of the withdrawal of the educational maintenance allowance and would like to see more detail about what is meant by ‘more targeted support’ for these young people.

“The Association of Colleges suggests the Government should protect education maintenance allowances for young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds by tackling inefficiency in small school sixth forms and closing the funding gap between schools and colleges.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “We are appalled to learn that education maintenance allowances are at risk. The simple message here seems to be: ‘Don’t be poor’.”

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Comment (3)

  • It's not being scrapped, its being changed so it targets the poorest students.

    I have 11 years teaching in an inner city college and I can honestly say that 90% of the kids on EMA use it for fags, computer games, cinema tickets and other items that have SFA to do with their education. For the other 10% of actually poor students, the £30 a week is barely enough to live off. Its totally unfair that kids living without their parents and who can't even afford furniture struggle on £30 a week, while they watch their class mates splash their EMA around like Monopoly money. Its distribution is totally unfair and it must be reformed.

    However, it was never designed to be fair. EMA was just a Labour statisic scam designed to keep young people of the unemployment figures and in education, whether or not it's actually whats best for them. I deal with a deluge of students who come to college fo rnothing but their EMA, and then drop of the course a few months later when assignment deadlines start to approach. Each of these kids takes the place off someone who actually wants to study just so they can make a quick buck. Whats worse is that some parents now believe EMA is a right and its the governments responsibilty to make sure that their kids have enough money for the latest PS3 game.

    I was teaching in colleges before EMA was available and it has had no impact on enrolment at all. It has not brought more people into education, it's just attracted lost of those who are motivated by a free £30 a week and have no interest in commiting to education.

    £30 per week x 36 academic weeks + £300 bonus (for turning up on time) = £1380.
    It's not nearly enough money for those it was intended to help and its way too much money for those who don't need it.

    Ps. Are we the only country in the world that has to pay people to stay in education?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    23 October, 2010


  • I'm 16 and have just started college, I get the full £30 ema and I have to say it is completely unfair that its being scrapped. Everyone can see how bad the economy is now and how do the government expect people to live up to their dreams if they can't afford the expensives needed to acheive it? Basically they say they're looking out for the poorer people but it's quite obvious they couldn't care less, they don't even know what we want/need and well they're clearly thick in some way. How about we take away their payments and see how they cope...

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    23 October, 2010


  • A 2008 NUS survey suggested that of those receiving the full £30, 65% could not continue in education without it, that’s over 316,000 young people continuing in education because of the EMA.
    Most of the arguments for staying in education post 16 are about long term benefits which a lot of young people from the most deprived backgrounds find really hard to evaluate and take into account. The EMA works as a taster which builds their understanding of the value of education. The effects of scrapping the EMA could be really worrying- and the biggest effect will be on the 487,587 most deprived young people who receive the full £30.

    I'm not sure I quite understand Pacifica's comments on this- it's not a case of the rich kids going off and splashing it on whatever they want- the rich kids don't receive EMA! If some poorer kids "waste" it on cinema tickets etc then they're just doing what plenty of adults chose to do with their hard earned cash- that's their choice and is part of this being a reasonably liberal policy. What matters is that they see that they are able to see that education brings rewards and they can define what form those rewards take for themselves. You'll see in my blog about this topic that it's quite true that in theory we should all see the value of education in and of itself, but this policy is there to counteract the years of deprivation and educational dis-illusionment that has meant that in plenty of families this is not the case. We are not working with a blank, idealised slate.

    Loic Menzies
    Twitter: @LKMco

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    28 October, 2010


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