Educational Maintenance Allowance is an allowance of between £10 and £30 a week paid to 16-19 year olds from low-earning backgrounds who stayed on in further education. Its original aims were to increase participation and achievement in further education. It cost about £550m a year.
The coalition government have scrapped it and replaced it with a much smaller pot of money to be paid to students in hardship. The NUS, Polly Toynbee, a range of Labour MPs and the website Save EMA have campaigned for it to be saved.
My experience as a teacher is that it is an extremely ineffective policy. When I read the relevant research, it all completely confirmed my concerns. Here is a summary of the posts I have written supporting the EMA cut.
- EMA has extraordinarily high ‘deadweight’ costs – that is, most of the people receiving the benefit would have stayed on in further education even without it. The NUS have consistently misrepresented this despite a phenomenal weight of evidence proving it.
- Even those who have been persuaded to stay on because of EMA have not achieved very well as a result. Nor have those receiving who would have stayed on anyway benefitted by being able to do less paid work and concentrate on their schoolwork. The evidence on achievement is weak, and the most positive thing that can be said is it improves students’ grades by about one eighth of one A-level grade. Anthony Painter has questioned the stats in the above two posts, and my response to him can be found here, here and here.
- One of the main things EMA was meant to pay for was transport costs – yet data show that 50% of further ed students live within half hour’s walk of a post-16 establishment. Many areas also have free or subsidised transport for 16-19 year olds.
- The above facts have been consistently misrepresented in the media, mainly by the NUS and the Save EMA campaign, but also by Bridget Phillopson, Lisa Nandy, Polly Toynbee (one, two, three), Ken Livingstone and Hazel Blears.This has meant that anyone who questions the value of EMA is represented as wanting to destroy opportunity, often in quite lurid and sensationalist terms.
- In particular, the NUS misrepresent the issue by confusing percentages and percentage points. The head of the Save EMA campaign also shows a poor grasp of those statistics.
- There is anecdotal evidence of EMA being spent on non-essential and non-educational items. Research evidence points towards transport being what students spend most of their EMA money on – but given the fact about proximity to college, and given the significant anecdotal evidence, I suggest that a lot of this expenditure may be on driving lessons and cars, which certainly counts as transport but is hardly an essential.
- There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests EMA negatively affects students’ attitude to learning, and indeed much of the defence of EMA sees students as entirely passive creatures who lack all personal agency. This was shown again by the students themselves at the recent protests.
- The replacement scheme will offer many of the benefits whilst cutting a lot of the deadweight.
- I think that EMA is probably the quintessential new Labour social programme.
- Finally, in case anyone thinks I really am being a callous git who doesn't understand how hard it is to be poor, here is my own experience of EMA, which I was in fact eligible for.
- The IFS seem to be about to bring a new paper out about it - I haven't had a chance to read it but here are my thoughts based on some of the advance info out there.