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What is EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance)?
EMA is a conditional cash transfer and its aim is to decrease the dropout rates of 16-18 year olds from compulsory to post-compulsory education in the UK. It is targeted at individuals who have completed their GCSEs. If they choose to undertake any academic or vocational course that involves at least 12 hours of guided learning per week, and if their household income is below £30,000 per year, they are eligible for the programme. The payments consist of a weekly allowance of £10, £20 or £30 paid according to household income during term time and termly retention bonuses, both obtainable for up to two years. The money is intended to help with course related costs such as travel, books and equipment. To qualify a Learning Agreement is under-taken with a school or college which has achievements targets which have to be met in order to stay on the EMA scheme, and get your weekly awards and bonus payments.
It was piloted in ten Local Education Authorities in England in September 1999, with the piloting further extended in September of the following year and has been on offer nationwide since September 2004.
This provided the basis for a large-scale evaluation at the IFS (Institute of Fiscal Studies), in collaboration with the CRSP (Centre for Research in Social Policy), which has pointed to the subsidy having increased participation in post-compulsory education, particularly amongst males. The increase in post-compulsory stay-on rates is in the region of 6 percentage points. It also shows that attainment in GCSEs and A-level by recipients of the EMA has risen by 40 per cent. since its introduction. That figure is even greater for those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods.
A report by CfBT Education Trust claims that there is “robust evidence” that EMAs have increased participation and achievement among 16 and 17 year olds, and contributed to improved motivation and performance. The report also states there is good evidence that those who are encouraged to stay on by EMAs achieve results that are at least as good as others. So this is not participation for its own sake but participation that has the effect of increasing skill levels and thereby life chances.
In addition, RCU (Research & Consultancy in UK education, training and skills sector) carried out research on the national scheme and in a report concluded “that EMA has had a positive impact on the retention, achievement and success of certain groups of learners…traditionally associated with lower levels of achievement such as: male learners; learners from minority ethnic groups; those with backgrounds of high deprivation and learners on lower level and vocational courses.”
Scrapping of EMA
The coalition government has announced that
Education Maintenance Allowance will be abolished 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.”
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.
This decision has created much public anger, not only because it is unclear what will be actually replacing EMA but also due to various comments by coalition MPs prior to the election:
Toni Pearce, 20, Student Union president at Cornwall College said: When David Cameron visited our college just before the election, he promised me personally, in front of a group of students, that he would not scrap the EMA. So it was a bit of a kick in the face to hear that’s exactly what has happened. They are excluding a lot of young people from further education. In rural areas, like Cornwall, travel can be a real barrier to participation in education and training, but cuts to local authority funding may also threaten travel subsidies for FE students.” (Apr 2010)
Michael Gove, the then Shadow Education Secretary said: “We’re committed to doing everything we can to close the gap in achievement between the poorest and the wealthiest at school. Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.” (Oct 2009)
David Laws (the then Lib Dem education spokesman) said “The Liberal Democrats don’t plan to scrap the allowance” (Oct 2008)
In 2008/9 the Labour government came under fire because the company responsible for processing the payments did not deliver on its commitments and EMA payments were delayed for many months. During this period the Conservative shadows minister, Nick Gibb said: “Thousands of the most deprived teenagers are missing out and may drop out of college altogether because of the chaos surrounding this year’s payments. We urgently need to make sure every eligible teenager receives their EMA payment before financial hardship forces them out of education.” This was a fair criticism but now reeks of hypocrisy considering only months after coming to power, his party announced the EMA was to be abolished.
Effects of ending EMA
Future students, teachers and parents are concerned about the effects of scrapping EMA which is being compounded by the government’s failure to announce full details of any schemes to replace it and what levels of funding they would receive.
John Stone, chief executive of the LSN (Learning and Skills Network) said: “The biggest question is whether colleges will be covered by the same funding guarantees as schools, but early signs suggest funding will go down. The challenge for the sector will be finding ways to protect learners, and to make sure teaching and learning is not affected.”
Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive of the AoC (Association of Colleges) 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 AoC 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 UCU (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’.”
Lynne Sedgmore CBE, executive director of the 157 Group said: “Colleges will have to work hard to minimise the effect of the cuts on learners and, despite a couple of positive surprises in the review, it will just not be possible to protect the front line. We welcome the introduction of income-contingent student loans in further education, akin to those available in higher education. In relation to 16 to 19-year-olds, it is good news that the government is planning for an increase in participation, although wrong to assume that this will make greater efficiencies possible. Those learners who do not currently stay on in education will require different and usually more expensive provision than traditional learners. We believe that greater efficiencies could be made in the 16-19 phase if the government tackled the anomaly of small sixth forms or asked the Young People’s Learning Agency to fund school provision at the same rate as colleges. We hope that it will have the courage to do so.”
She also said: “It is disappointing that there was no reference to Further Education, the sector that has the highest proportion of disadvantaged learners. If plans to remove child benefit for those over 16 and to cut back on EMAs are pushed through, the impact of the premium in improving school and early years provision could be undone. The EMA has made a real difference to the participation and achievement of young people from poorer households, and we sincerely hope that it will be retained in these difficult times. If these cuts were to happen at the same time as parents lost their jobs or had to cut their hours, we could see increased drop-out rates for 16 and 17-year-olds, reversing years of progress against our skills ambitions. Members of the 157 Group know how important financial support can be in helping those from disadvantaged backgrounds to persevere and succeed. Further thought should be given to rolling up the EMA, child benefit and other forms of support into a well-targeted youth allowance that ensures no-one is prevented from getting on in education because of financial hardship.”
John Stone, chief executive of LSN said: “Getting the same results from a reduced central fund won’t happen overnight. Government has made one right move by devolving the power of distribution to those closest to the frontline, but schools and colleges urgently need to know how much money will be available and the details around how it will be regulated. Institutions are in the process of planning for a period of dramatic change, no matter where they sit in the education world. This work needs to be planned for if they are to make it a success.”
Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the ALP (Association of Learning Providers) said: “Take away their £30 a week and the chances of keeping some of the teenagers who receive it enthused enough to attend school or college are slim”
Shane Chowen vice-president (further education) of the NUS (National Union of Students) said: “The plan to abolish the EMA will be devastating news to thousands of young people who rely on that support to complete their post-16 education. The government is still calling it an “incentive”, when in reality it is a vital source of support for young people from low-income families. Another big worry is the loss of funding for level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) qualifications for over-25s, which means those who were failed by the education system the first time round won’t get a second chance unless they have the money to pay for it.”
Chris Morecroft, president of the AoC, said: “One area where the Government has got it seriously wrong is the decision to abolish the EMA. You all know, as do the people actually working in colleges, that EMAs have made a real difference in recruiting and retaining young people in education and training and helping them to be successful. AoC has been quite clear with ministers that their ambition to achieve full participation in education and training to the age of 18 by 2015 will not succeed unless young people have the financial security to participate. And that they have made it much more difficult to reduce the number of young people not in education, employment or training.”
It is clearly apparent that many people are worried about the future of our younger generations. Colleges are particularly concerned about EMA because they teach 69 per cent of students receiving this support. In some cases, such as Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College in Birmingham, more than three quarters of students come from families earning under £20,000, and are eligible for the maximum grant. The coalition government have said that EMA is not required as 90% would still stay in further education whether they received it or not. However, recent studies have shown that, if EMA is abolished , at least 76,000 young people would be forced out of further education and would become NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training). It can easily be argued that the additional cost of paying welfare benefits to these people would far outweigh any savings made from abolishing it. EMA makes it far easier for 16/18 year olds to stay in education and focus on their studies. It should be considered a down payment on the economic prosperity of our country as it helps develop a motivated and highly skilled workforce for the future.
If you feel EMA should be saved, please sign the online petition at http://saveema.co.uk/archives/360