EMA replacement is 'no fairer', MPs warn

22nd July 2011 at 01:00
Decision to scrap scheme was `rushed and ill thought through'

The bursary scheme replacing the education maintenance allowance (EMA) will not be any "fairer or more discriminating" than its predecessor, an influential committee of MPs has warned.

The Commons education select committee has concluded that scrapping the EMA was "rushed and ill thought through", and raised concerns about the new system that has been put in place.

In a report published on Tuesday, the committee said that the Department for Education announced its funding allocations for 201112 "far too late", making it impossible for 16 to 19-year-olds who would have been eligible for the EMA to make "informed decisions" about their learning.

Meanwhile, the annual report of the Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA) - the quango responsible for administering the EMA - revealed it has struggled with the timescale for scrapping the EMA. The announcement that it would be discontinued in August was only made in October 2010.

"The pace of this change led to related capacity and (other) issues impacting the YPLA's ability to establish effective control frameworks," the report said.

According to the education select committee, inconsistencies in the distribution of discretionary funding by colleges will "inevitably" occur, which could distort young people's choices of where to study.

While accepting that a reform of the support funding was "inevitable", the committee "is not persuaded that bursaries administered by schools and colleges will necessarily be fairer or more discriminating than a slimmed- down, more targeted entitlement such as the EMA".

Committee chairman Graham Stuart said: "Young people taking life-defining decisions at 16 need clear information on the support they may receive and deserve better than rushed and ill-thought-through reforms.

"We accept that changes and savings need to be made but the organisation of the change has been far from smooth."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the report recognised that the Government had made a "complete mess" of the policies surrounding the EMA and its replacement.

"Ignorance is always more expensive than education and unless the Government looks again at the help for our poorest teenagers then the state will be hit with a higher benefit payments bill," she added.

Adrian Prandle, education policy adviser at the ATL union, said: "We agree with the select committee that the abolition of EMA was botched and its replacement will be unfair on young people. Unfortunately the committee's report is too late."

A DfE spokesman said the report "acknowledges the Government's rationale for closing the very expensive and centralised EMA scheme".

"We firmly believe that a more targeted approach is needed and it is right to put money in the hands of people who know their pupils best - heads and college principals," he added.

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