Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Educational Maintenance Allowance - EMA

I first heard of EMA when I was in the 6th form. They were piloting it in the London borough where I lived and I was eligible for it. I never claimed it – partly this was teenage laziness but partly it was because I didn’t really believe something so ridiculous had been invented. I was staying on in the 6th form anyway. My parents weren’t wealthy but they could afford to give me pocket money. I ate lunches in school and dinners at home. It felt slightly ridiculous that I would actually get money to do what I had been doing for the past five years. I am not being sanctimonious here – in hindsight I wish I had got my act together and claimed the money. I am just pointing out what a waste a lot of it – a waste in the sense that it was designed to encourage people who wouldn’t have done so to stay on in school, when all the evidence shows that about 90% of those eligible for it were like me and would have stayed on anyway.  Now I am a teacher, I can see even more what a waste it is. Of the 60 odd kids I’ve taught who have been eligible for EMA, only a handful would have dropped out without it. And of those only one actually wanted to study in the 6th form. The others were only there for the EMA – that is to say, it functioned as a bribe.

But EMA exists, and amongst the ahistorical youth of today is seen as a kind of birthright. The NUS have a hilarious website filled with the illiterate rants of teenagers defending their entitlement.  According to the campaign leader, and many of the comments on there, EMA is utterly vital to their education – nay, the nation’s future prosperity. One wonders how people survived at 6th form in the dim and distant days before 2004, let alone those students in the 50s and 60s. One wonders why it was that social mobility was higher in the 1970s than today.  Not all the students defend it on the grounds of national interest though – some are clearer about the vested interest:


This young man is at least honest. He’s at college for the money, if you cut it then he will swan off and become one of the NEETs so dreaded by politicians.  You have to wonder what he thinks the point of college is for him – call me a cynic but the point actually seems to be the £20. If he got EMA and did attend college, I somehow doubt it would turn him into a paragon of intellectual devotion. Rather, I would suggest that he would end up sitting hung over at the back of the class, not contributing and not doing any work. If he didn’t get EMA, he probably would become a NEET. If he did, he’d stay at college and be a NEET in all but name and the statistics.  This is what I think some of the statistics about the ‘success’ of EMA show – yes, if you bribe kids to stay on at school, you will obviously raise attendance. You will probably also raise attainment slightly because it’s harder to get a U than an E in a lot of courses, especially where there is a large coursework element. Whether this sort of improved attainment really is an improvement is another issue.  Here is another pupil:

I Think that without ema i will never be able to afford to go to college and pay for the equipment i need as most of my work is done on apple macs as i am a media student all my ema will go towards paying off my fee for my apple mac and other equipment.

This sort of poor grammar and spelling is not unusual on the Save EMA website.  Very few of those agitating to receive it demonstrate the sort of writing ability you would expect of college students. Or, as one of my friends once said to me, 'if you can’t spell college, you shouldn’t be going to college.'

One more student:

Its difficult to get a part-time job, because of the credit crunch. Cutting EMA will just make it worse, as students will drop out, affecting the economy even more.

Im doing 6form this september and i hope i get my EMA. Thank you for this campaign, hopefully It will work out.

It would seem to me that if it really is difficult to get a job – as many of the comments testify - then that’s all the more reason for staying on at college, because the alternative is presumably NEETdom which isn’t going to do any good for your personal prospects or those of the country.

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