EMA replacement 'ill thought through' say MPs

The education select committee has warned young people could suffer as a result of the abolition of the EMA
The education select committee has warned young people could suffer as a result of the abolition of the EMA

By Phil Scullion

The government's decision to replace the education maintenance allowance (EMA) was "rushed and ill thought through", a committee of MPs has said.

Many teenagers have been left "uncertain" by the reforms, with funding allocated too late for 16-year-olds to make informed life changing decisions, according to the education select committee.

In October 2010 education secretary Michael Gove announced the EMA would be abolished as part of the spending review.

The EMA had been targeted at young people in households earning below a £21,000 per year threshold and a replacement bursary scheme was unveiled in March.

Graham Stuart, chairman of the education select committee, accepted that whilst savings needed to be made the changeover had been "far from smooth".

He said: "Young people taking life defining decisions at 16 need clear information on the support they may receive and deserve better.

"Decisions on how much will be available for distribution by each school or college have been taken far too late, and it is 16-year-olds who have suffered uncertainty as a result. That should not have been allowed to happen."

However a department for education spokesman said that financial issues would not be allowed to become a "barrier" for young people.

He said: "We firmly believe that a more targeted approach is needed and it is right to put money in the hands of heads and college principals, who know their pupils best. This is precisely what the new bursary scheme will do."

The committee's report on participation by 16- to 19-year-olds in education and training says that the EMA's positive effect on participation, attainment and retention should have been better acknowledged by the government before it set about restructuring the system.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, welcomed the report, accusing the government of creating a "complete mess" of the EMA.

She said: "Ever since the government started cherry-picking research to drive through the end of the EMA it has been clear to us that thousands of the country's poorest teenagers would suffer.

"It was insulting to hear Michael Gove dismiss the EMA as a deadweight cost – something that has now been proven incorrect.

"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."

The committee also made a number of other recommendations, highlighting their support for apprenticeships, urging more face-to-face careers advice for young people, and advising the department for education to address the challenges of transferring data about pupils' needs between schools and colleges.


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