Monday, 13 December 2010

Summary of my EMA posts

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. 
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. The replacement scheme will offer many of the benefits whilst cutting a lot of the deadweight.
  9. I think that EMA is probably the quintessential new Labour social programme
  10. 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.
  11. 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.



    Oh dear, is it time to stop this bizarre crusade?

  2. Er - no.

  3. To be expected: "When in doubt, shout!".

  4. I'm afraid I've got to agree with Contented Lib Dem.

    The report hardly "fires a flaming bolt" through the Governments argument:

    - It agrees the level of deadweight cost
    - It argues that thisis offset by future returns from the (presumably 30,000 or so) extra students. The analysis is not freely available, so we can't see their assumptions, raw numbers, or discount rate for NPV. Assuming 31% tax+NI and a discount rate of 2.2% per annum, that assumes an extra £4.5k per annum income by sitting A-levels. Do we know if that's about right?

    - That's all moot when it becomes compulsory anyway.

    - The extra 4 points on UCAS tariffs (cf 240 points for 3 Cs) is not a very large difference for the money. Funding private tuition for the lowest achieving poorer students would probably be better?

    - The point "for example through better attendance, or more study time as a result of not having to take on a part-time job" completely repeats the 4 point UCAS benefits by explaining it but purports to be a separate issue

    - The point "represent a transfer of resources to low-income households with children, which may in its own right represent a valuable policy objective." is completely outwith the efficiency as an Educational allowance and is contestible anyway, as its paid into families with incomes of £30k per annum, and even higher if the income comes from maintenance payments (why should children at private school need this?)

    - An alternative method of - for example:

    -- Paying for transport costs for 16-18 year olds in education from families below £30k per annum further than 1 mile from school (assume half of current EMA recipients need this (see other Contented Lib Dem postings), assume average £400 per year (as a 13-week Oxfordshire Megarider pass costs £115, this is probably generous enough)

    -- £100 million for specialist private one-to-one tuition for poorly achieving ctudents from poorer familise (at £30 per hour, 3 hours per week, 12 weeks per term, this gives c 100,000 pupil-terms of serious assistance)

    -- Provide lottery-style random prizes for students with good attendence, discipliniary records and improvement records. If we have 1 x £25k, 10 x £10k, 100 x £5k, 1000 x £1k, 10 000 x £500 and 100 000 x £100 prizes per term nationally, every school should have several £100 winners per term and a handful of £300 winners every year, and everyone will know a £1k winner or £5k winner quite quickly. I'd bet attendence would increase there.

    -- All of the above comes in at less than half of the cost of "throw pocket money at students who mainly don't really need it" (£260 million per year as against £560 million per year). Do you think participation and improvement rates would be worse under that system (which is admittedly no more than one-third baked as I came up with it whilst typing)?

  5. To the author, I must admit I find your views (whilst a little overbearing on the statistics) very interesting and not that far removed from my own. I would very much like to get in contact with you for a number of reasons but I can't seem to find a way to do so. So I will leave my e-mail address ( and I hope you'll drop me a line whenever it's convenient for you to do so. Incidentally, if you want to get an idea of what my views generally are you might want to take a quick look at my blog


    Labour planned to abolish EMA and fine students £50 for not turning up instead