Scrapping EMA will deter poorer school leavers from further education

Students living in low income households may be deterred from entering further education due to recent cuts within the sector.

The government’s decision to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which currently provides financial support for over 600,000 students each year, will have a major impact on school leavers from poorer backgrounds.

School leavers living in households that earn less than £30,810 annually were entitled to EMA income between £10 and £30 per week.

But removing the incentive that was set up to encourage young people aged 16 and 18 to enter further education is likely to deter many young people from pursing this path in the future.

Lucy Wilkinson, aged 17 from Haringey, north London, is an art student in her final year at college and lives in a single income household. She told People with Voices that the EMA has had a major impact on her studies.

“My mum doesn’t earn a high wage like some people and having to support me and my sister has been a struggle for all of us. I receive £30 a week from EMA, which may not seem like a lot but when you have to buy art materials, go on college trips and eat  while at college, trust me it helps a lot especially my mum.”

A study published in June 2010 entitled: Barriers to Participation in Education and Training found that 12 per cent of young people receiving EMA said that they would not have continued with their studies had they not received this income.

The scrapping of the EMA is expected to save the government £560 million as well as administration costs of £36 million, according to the Department of Education. But the government claims it will continue to invest money in other student support schemes.

Students currently in receipt of EMA will continue to receive their weekly payments until the end of this academic year. But new applicants will not be entitled to EMA from January 2011.

School Leaver Jade Campbell just started his first year at college and has been fortunate to receive EMA. But Campbell told People with Voices that he would have not have gone to college if he didn’t receive the allowance.

“Having this income allows me to focus on my studies and get good grades so I can go to university.

“If I had to work part time and do all the extra activities that I do, I would never be able to work towards Oxford or Cambridge university grades which are A star grades, and that’s where I plan to go.”

The Department of Education said that they will continue to support young people who are experiencing financial difficulties by adding additional investment to the Discretionary Learner Support Fund, which currently pays out £26 million per year to schools and colleges.

A Department of Education spokesperson told People with Voices:

“Given the economic climate, the state of the public finances and the very difficult decisions we have had to make across Government, it is only right that we should find a better, more effective way of targeting support to those young people who really need it to continue in education.”

According to recent figures from the Young Peoples Learning Authority (YPLA) 70,741 young people aged between 16 and 18 in London received EMA this academic year, with the highest number of school leavers receiving the allowance residing in East London.

Figures from the YPLA also revealed that Newham borough had 4,063 EMA applicants – making it the borough with the highest number of pay-outs.

Newham Sixth Form College principle, Eddie Playfair, recently told The Times Educational Supplement:

“The EMA cut is devastating. Educationally, it has made a huge difference in continuing studies. It’s an example of a regressive measure that hits the poorest the hardest. The students really valued it – £30 a week makes a big difference to those young people and their families.”