Restoration of the EMA is a key policy in the SEA manifesto and is also demanded in the SEA‘s proposed motion to Labour Conference. Anya explains why.
EMA was a payment to students that was introduced under Labour in 1999 to improve participation in education post-16 both in FE colleges and sixth forms.
Students had to attend lessons and complete work to receive the payments.
It was terminated by former Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove.
Now the UK has a higher non-participation rate in education post 16 than most European countries, at 8.4%, even though education or training post 16 is now compulsory.
In April the Welsh Government which continued with EMA, has just agreed an increase of payments from £30 to £40 a week.
The same needs to happen in England.
National Education Union delegates voted at this year’s annual conference to make it union policy to campaign for EMA to be reinstated in England for all students aged 16-19.
This should be aligned to Job Seekers Allowance rates, currently approximately £60 a week.
NEU Joint General Secretary Mary Bousted said:
“For young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular, accessing financial support from the Government is often a key means by which they are able to stay on in education past the age of 16”.
In its 2011 report, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Going For Growth report called for EMA to be reinstated to keep young people in education and to boost youth employment in the UK.
Former UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said at the time: “The Government has been criticised from all sides over how it has handled the EMA… The very least [they] can do is look again at the necessary level of support needed to give this country’s poorest teenagers a fair crack at an education”.
The UCU commissioned research which predicted that 70% of further education students would drop out if their EMA was withdrawn and predicted that more young people would claim benefits, thus increasing the benefits bill.
David Cameron swiped that aside, raising the education leaving age to 18 less than 2 years later in 2013.
Compulsion though has not led to better outcomes for the UK’s poorest students.
For the very poorest the gap on average was 4 A level grades equivalent between them and their more advantaged peer’s pre-pandemic. The Government’s temporary replacement, a means-tested scheme, forced students to apply for financial support through a discretionary fund administered by individual colleges and schools; fewer students were eligible to receive a reduced stipend.
Addressing the gap
Addressing this gap must include financial barriers to education.
Last summer the OECD adopted the recommendations made in its report on Creating Better Opportunities For Young People.
This report recognised that to have young people achieve in education and training more must be done to address barriers to young people including financial ones.
I don’t need a report to tell me this.
Working in further education for 16 years, in a college in the North of England, in an area of high social deprivation, I have witnessed first-hand the problem.
Declining living standards and poverty work against the increasing struggle for young people to attend their courses and achieve qualifications well.
Young people who cannot afford to eat or to travel must subsidise learning through low-paid jobs.
This is often because they have responsibilities to provide for their families.
They are therefore at a disadvantage in the classroom; that’s if we, as educators, can get them there and keep them there.
Financial concerns and poverty create compounding pressures, heightened stress, increased anxiety, directly impacting on attendance, achievement, and future life chances.
Post-16 education should be about developing and supporting young people into adulthood.
Living in hardship though means their independence is decreased and their dependency increased.
Sarah Kilpatrick and Mary Bousted
With education now compulsory to age 18 the conditions in which all young people can thrive, must be campaigned for, and implemented. Gateshead art teacher Sarah Kilpatrick says slashing EMA was a decision that made her very angry.
She said: “I have been powerless to stop students with so much potential dropping out due to poverty. It is devastating.”
Mary Bousted continued “The reinstatement of EMA to meet today’s living costs would be a positive first step towards ensuring that all young people, particularly those from working-class backgrounds, can get the education they deserve”.
EMA would have kept my own son in sixth form completing his A levels and, if it is reintroduced, will prevent other young people from dropping out or achieving less than their potential.
To Level Up we must iron out socio-economic equalities and provide all young people with the same opportunities to learn and grow in security.