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Cuts of all kinds have education in a spin

I chaired the inquiry in 1999 which David Blunkett set up when he was education secretary over how to help poorer students remain in education after the age of 16.

We recommended the introduction of Education Maintenance Awards (EMA), which were paid to poorer students on a sliding scale of a weekly payment depending on their parents' income. Looked-after children would receive them in full. The awards were already targeted then, so repacing them with targeted support is a misleading statement by the Government.

The conditions that the students had to fulfil each week to receive the money in their bank account were to attend on time and hand in their assignments. These measures resulted in more poorer students choosing to remain in education after the age of 16 and, more importantly, helped them successfully complete their course.

Some Department officials were not in favour of the maintenance awards but the Treasury supported the idea because they wanted to see poorer students remaining in education and training. When the school leaving age was raised to 18, officials proposed ending the maintenance awards but Ed Balls overruled them. FE colleges, in particular, have seen many 16- to 18-year-olds benefit from the scheme since young people can concentrate on their studies instead of having to rely on part-time jobs to pay for their travel, books, and equipment.

The new education ministers clearly have made no attempt to discuss their policy with either headteachers or college principals or even find out how successful this modest reform has been. What will now happen is that the numbers who are not in education or training will increase and such students will remain unemployed, especially as the number of unskilled jobs continue to fall.

The result will be an increase in public expenditure and more poorer students will leave school with insufficient qualifications. The Government will be remembered for lowering educational standards among the poorer 16- to 19-year-olds in England.

Graham Lane, Former chair of the LGA Education Committee, London.

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