Poor evidence for axing EMA

28th January 2011 at 00:00

I am disappointed that MPs did not oppose as a majority the ending of the education maintenance allowance (EMA). Its abolition is based on a misconception that it is expensive, not targeted and not necessary because it does not increase participation.

The cost of the EMA is modest and there has been a rise in the participation rate of poorer students. More interestingly, there has been a marked increase in the retention of those students to the end of their courses.

When the report on the pilot of the EMA was published in 2000, some education officials remained opposed to the idea. But Treasury officials were keen to see the allowance put in place because they realised it would be needed to tackle the number of young people not in education, employment or training. That number has now risen to a record level.

Some officials proposed ending the EMA when attempts were made to raise the school participation age to 18 on the grounds that it was no longer needed. Ed Balls overruled the idea because he knew that poorer students needed financial support.

Claims from some that the EMA does not encourage students to remain in education are not based on any evidence. The view of many college principals who support the allowance has been ignored by ministers.

The Government has dealt a serious blow to the opportunities of poorer students without first looking at the evidence or talking to the students who have benefited from them.

Abolition of the EMA saves very little money and may well cost more as fewer teenagers remain in education in order to obtain the necessary qualifications and skills. In the meantime, the country has an ageing population at a time when the number of unskilled jobs continues to decline.

Graham Lane, Former chair of the 16-19 working group which proposed the EMA.

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