Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, wants to replace EMA by finding a more targeted mechanism for supporting students from middle and lower income backgrounds. I have spoken to young people who are clear that EMA plays an important role for them, but also to some who receive the allowance and openly admit they could do without it. EMA is guaranteed funding until a student either leaves full-time education or reaches his or her 19th birthday. However, it may be that a parent’s circumstances change for the better in that two or three years; nonetheless, the payments continue. For these reasons, I agree that EMA needs to be reviewed so financial support is targeted to those students who need it most.
EMA currently helps many students from poorer backgrounds start their further education by guaranteeing a regular sum of money which helps to cover the costs of attending college – whether transport (a particularly serious issue in a rural area like this) food, books, kit or equipment. Getting student funding right for AS and A2 levels is crucial, as if you can’t do your A levels, you’re not in a position to apply for a place at university.
I have spoken with Michael Gove to discuss the progress of plans to replace EMA and to raise many points: I asked about the County Council’s legal obligations to provide transport for 16 – 18 year olds; explained the difficulties students face in paying £600+ for a bus pass; the lack of local bus services; the extra costs as the County Council removes concessions for students and reduces its bus subsidies – reducing the service still further; the impact of rising fuel prices; the costs of car insurance for young people; the expense of using taxis; the difficulties of finding part-time jobs locally; the costs of studying on courses requiring equipment (like hairdressers, chefs), uniforms (nursery nurses, car mechanics), kit (sports equipment), materials (art, photography); the ability for students to choose where to study for A levels – not just at their nearest school or college, but at the one which runs their chosen course. I sought assurances that whatever replaced EMA would in some way address the above difficulties so that support for young people was provided where it was needed.
There has been some confusion surrounding the 19th January debate. To be clear, that vote was not the substantive vote on the future of funding for 16 – 18 year old students. It was a chance for the opposition to raise the subject in Parliament, which I welcomed, as I understand the need to get the policy right.
At the end of the debate, I voted in favour of the following amended motion:
“That this House believes in full participation in education and training for young people up to the age of 18 and considers that support must be in place to allow those who face the greatest barriers to participation to access this opportunity; notes that the previous Government left this country with one of the largest budget deficits in the world and that savings have had to be made in order to avoid burdening future generations; further notes that the Government has increased funding for deprivation within the 16 to 19 budget and has already begun to replace the current education maintenance allowance system with more targeted support for those who face genuine barriers, including travel; and commits the Government to working with young people, schools and colleges and others outside and inside Parliament on arrangements for supporting students in further education and on improving access to, enthusiasm for and participation in further and higher education.”
The amended motion was passed by 319 votes to 256 votes.
I will continue to scrutinize the practical implications as this policy is developed.