Social mobility champion labels abolition of EMA 'ridiculous'

13th May 2011 at 01:00
Charity chief heading standards scheme also lashes out at raising of university fees

The head of a charity overseeing a multi-million-pound Government school standards scheme has attacked ministers' education policies, describing their axing of the education maintenance allowance (EMA) as "ridiculous".

In an interview with The TES, Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, also revealed serious concerns about free schools and academies, the pupil premium, university tuition fees and the scrapping of a higher education outreach scheme.

The Government announced last month that Sir Peter's charity would be managing its #163;125 million Education Endowment Fund, aimed at raising standards in underperforming schools.

But the philanthropist claimed that senior politicians in power from all parties "don't want to know" about opening up the very top of society because it was their children that stood to lose out.

While he greeted the fund as "fantastic news", Sir Peter was critical of other Coalition education policies. He was "very upset" about the abolition of the EMA, paid weekly to 16 to 19-year-olds from poorer homes staying on in education.

The policy's successor was only putting in about a third of the previous amount of funding, he said, "which is ridiculous". "And it is very restricted to really poor kids and I think kids on lower-middle incomes need help as well."

Sir Peter described the increase in university tuition fees as "outrageous". He said research showed that "above #163;6,000 you start to lose half the kids that say they want to go to university; at #163;9,000 you are losing a lot more". "It is going to put a lot of kids off," he added.

The campaigner also warned this week that ministers' suggestions that universities be allowed to charge wealthy British students even higher fees was "likely to deal a serious blow to social mobility, allowing the better-off to buy advantage".

Sir Peter told The TES he was unhappy about the Coalition scrapping the Aimhigher scheme, designed to encourage more young people from poorer homes to go to university.

He said that although he had come round to the idea of academies, he was concerned that both academies and free schools could increase social segregation.

"The only way you can do free schools and academies (is by having) an incredibly good admissions code to make sure that they are taking their fair share of free-school-meals kids," Sir Peter said. "We have got to do something to break up the social selection that takes place."

He was "totally for" the pupil premium - which will provide extra school funding for every pupil eligible for free school meals - but is concerned that "the current level is not going to make much difference".

But Sir Peter said the Coalition had moved social mobility higher up the agenda than it was under Labour. And he is more "hopeful" now that ministers will run with his idea of a subsidised needs-blind admission scheme for independent day schools than he was under the last government.

Shane Chowen, vice-president for further education at the National Union of Students, said: "The Government should realise that their scrapping of EMA and the creation of its paltry, discretionary replacement are a huge mistake that will hurt many of the kinds of young people Sir Peter represents."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "There is no more passionate advocate for social mobility than Sir Peter Lampl - which is precisely why the Sutton Trust is running our #163;125 million endowment fund backing education schemes for poor pupils.

"Ministers are crystal clear that the attainment gap is far too large - that's why we're targeting all our reforms and funding at those who need the most support."

Sir Peter Lampl, pages 14-15.

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