Study of the Coalition Government’s scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)

Category: Coalition
Last Updated: 25 May 2023
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This paper addressed decision by Coalition government to scrap the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) paid to students who stayed in post- compulsory education. It explored the history of EMA and the circumstances leading to its scrapping. The paper presented discussions emerging from those who are in support of EMA and those who aren’t and the context in which Coalition decided to scrap it. The discussions explored beliefs that decisions taken by Coalition do not take into consideration their impact on students across the country. The paper discussed an academic literature, viewing the conflicting and opposed nature of EMA in post-16 education and, therefore, may be understood better from students’, staff and parents’ perspectives.

The decision by the researcher to tackle this current issue was because of concerns about the future of 25 students on Foundation Learning and Springboard who were all EMA recipients on full ?30 a week band. The researcher wanted to find out if the new funding mechanisms replacing EMA were the best to tackle problems of deprivation and disadvantage students faced and how not getting EMA would impact on their learning.

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The aim of the paper was to find out if EMA delivered policy requirements of widening participation, increased retention and attendance, encouragement of social mobility, inclusivity, access for all, Every Child Matters and equal opportunities to resources. These policy aspects were examined in detail as they are embedded in the whole realm of EMA. The influence of EMA on crime was discussed in relation to its ability to reduce crime. The paper attempted to seek justification as to why Coalition scrapped EMA and replaced it with different funding mechanisms, eradicating uninformed assumptions as to which funding practices are either appropriate or effective. The paper examined these aspects in relation to their influence on choice of destinations for students. Policies which impact on post-16 education and further education (FE) were discussed to enhance understanding of the initial introduction of EMA policy.


In the United Kingdom, during the 1980s to1990s there was an influx in post-16 education. Many 16, 17 and 18 year olds remained in full time education. By 1994 numbers had doubled. In 1998 four fifths of post-16 children came from families where parents were managers or professionals, compared to less than half of those from poor working class backgrounds. Children from poor working class backgrounds made up ten percent of children not in education, employment or training (NEET). DfES (2004). This became policy issue for Labour in terms of post-16 education being largely enjoyed by children from wealthier backgrounds.

This necessitated the formulation of education policies to narrow the gap between poor and rich children. The first policy was the Standardised National Curriculum, (Market Reform) for all learners from the age of 7 to 16. It’s purpose was to make pupils study certain curriculum subjects in detail in order to tackle problems of poor numeracy and literacy to raise standards, widen access and improve basic skills. Many children left school without qualifications, GCSE pass rate was low, more than 2/3 did not pass GCSE and many opted for vocational qualifications. Dearden et al (2005).

This policy was time consuming as teachers planned all the subjects. Parents were given the right to choose schools, impacting on housing and cost of moving for poor parents. League tables made some schools look bad. The quasi-market system made it hard for some schools to improve. It created social- class and educational inequalities. Poor students were left behind, attending poor schools, underachieving in disadvantaged societies. Funding was based on school enrolment. Schools were given autonomy on the type of student to enrol, encouraging social and educational exclusion.

Following this policy in 1998, was the National Numeracy and Literacy Strategies (Curriculum Reform). Policy objective was to improve basic skills by using prescriptive methods to help teachers to know what to teach and how to teach it and allowing literacy and numeracy hours on the curriculum. Students were tested on their understanding of curriculum subjects by using national tests at 1, 2, 3, and 4 key stages. The limitations of this policy made it difficult to attract qualified teachers because of poor teachers’ packages, introduction of performance related pay and unfavourable conditions in relation to other professions. There was no autonomy for teachers. Everything was prescribed, removing creativity and initiative in teaching.

In spite of efforts by Labour, post-16 participation remained low. Another policy was introduced, the Vocational Qualification Reform which introduced the NVQs and NGVQs for students who were not performing well academically and to raise participation in post-16 education. It was a way of encouraging work- related education and making vocational qualifications look attractive to employers. Dearden et al.(2002)

This policy was unsuccessful. The qualifications were not valued by employers who thought only low performing students took vocational courses and therefore paid them low wages. Machin and Vignoles (2006). There was no unification of the system. There were too many different providers offering too many different qualifications with no economic value which Melia (1995) called “The Further Education Qualification jungle”. This did not encourage poor students to stay on in post-16 education.

Following 1991 and 1992 Education White Papers was the Kennedy Report (1997), which recommended that extra funds be made available to Inner City Colleges for students from socio-economically deprived backgrounds and those from poor post code areas, to widen participation. Children who fitted this category were nicknamed the ‘Kennedy Children’. Public view suggested this was done at the expense of children from the ‘right’ postcodes. Researcher can argued that the ‘Kennedy children’, as a matter of policy,had a right to benefit from extra funding to encourage them to stay on in education and achieve, from exclusion to inclusive education. Green and Lucas (2000). This led to the introduction of EMA policy. EMA policy was designed to address financial constraints which formed a barrier to post-16 participation in FE particularly among learners from low socio-economic backgrounds. Policy objectives were designed to improve student retention and attendance rates in sixth form and post-16 education, to raise participation and attainment levels in further education.

Labour launched the pilot project in September 1998-1999 in 56 out of 150 Local Authority Areas (LEAs). It targeted students in areas with low post-16 participation, low retention, low achievement rates, in areas where there was deprivation, where most of the population lived in rented accommodation and did not participate in the job market because of low qualifications and lack of skills. Heaver et al (2002).

After the first pilot proved a success the second pilot was launched in 2002-2004. Machin and Vignoles (2004) in agreement with the Kennedy Report reviewed a policy reform which introduce EMA to help students from poor backgrounds whose parents earned less than ?30,000 a year if they remained in education beyond compulsory education. EMA policy was administered first through the Learning Skills Council (LSC) but was moved to Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA). YPLA aims are raising aspirations, improving attainment targets to Level 2/3, reducing the NEET cohort and delivering Every Child Matters outcomes for young people. Eysenck (December 2010) affirmed “EMA makes it possible for students from poorer backgrounds to go onto sixth form or college rather than forcing them to leave school to take low paid, dead end jobs”.

It was officially launched nationwide in 2006 after being regarded a success in encouraging young people to stay on in education and opening up chances for students from disadvantaged back grounds who were unlikely to stay on in education after the compulsory education period. Chancellor Gordon Brown announced “The four pilots of EMA had proved a success, helping 20,000 extra students a year to stay in education”. Slatter (July 2003:2). By putting this policy in place Labour recognised Every Child Matters outcomes on inclusive education, raising aspirations, access and equality of opportunities for students with special or additional learning needs. Miles (2010). The Kennedy report pointed the need for these groups to be adequately educated to prevent social and economic exclusion. The recent proposed scrapping of EMA contradicts the Kennedy Report

EMA was means-tested. Students received varying amounts depending on their family yearly income. Some students received ?10, ?20, others received the full ?30 allowance a week. In addition, each student received various bonuses for attendance and achievement at the end of the course. Table1 shows how the students were paid according to individual household income. In 2004 about 50% of 16-19 year olds qualified to be eligible for EMA.

Table 1

Up to ?20,817?30.00 a week
?20,818-?25,521?20 a week.
?25,522-?30,810?10 a week

Source: Dearden et al (2005)

Social welfare benefits, child credits received by parents and earnings gained through part time jobs taken by young people were not considered. The money was paid into students’ accounts to help with the purchase of educational materials, bus fares and lunch but students could spend it as they wishe

Coalition decided to scrap EMA. In support, Nash (2002) announced that EMA had not been successful in encouraging participation of poor children. New applicants were not accepted after January 2011. Grounds for scrapping EMA given by Coalition are, it has not been properly targeted when Labour introduced it, Labour covered every young person with the same blanket and made them eligible. They claimed that learners were abusing it by spending it on alcohol, luxury goods, cigarettes and not using it to buy educational materials. Coalition goes further to say EMAs were costing the taxpayer ?564 million a year and there was no evidence on attainment of qualifications by those staying on at school. Not achieving qualifications and receiving EMA was like their parents signing on to get benefits. Lee (January 2011). Some researchers say “they see no reason why these youngsters cannot take part time jobs like newspaper rounds like we did in our days”. Freedman (2008: 2). Encouraging children to take part time jobs helps them to develop work ethics.

According to Michael Gove, EMA did not achieve the initial objective of encouraging young disadvantaged people to stay on in education after the compulsory education period. This was Labour’s way of keeping unemployment figures down as they did not have other options for them. Pearson (February, 2011). Labour argued this by quoting the education spokesman who said “…96% of 16- year olds and 94% of seventeen- year olds participate in education, employment or training because of the EMA”. Pearson goes further to say children do not need to be bribed to stay in education. What they need are initiatives, excellent teachers and help to remain focussed and find purpose in school. McGivney (December 2005:3) says “A curriculum that is based on varied interests and wishes of learners is far more effective in attracting learners and sustaining their motivation.” What is needed is to make learning meaningful and enjoyable to prevent dropouts.

When Michael Gove was Shadow Schools Secretary for Conservatives he hinted that EMAs were an expensive undertaking causing huge deficits which the country cannot afford. Coalition was accused of being out of touch with the plight of disadvantaged and poor people in this country. The context in which Coalition is scrapping EMA is strengthened by a letter written to The Guardian by a seventeen year old student drawing attention to abuse of EMA by students who owned cars and laptops and receiving EMA while living with their divorced mothers. Jones (2010)

Although Labour had planned to scrap EMA in 2013 when their proposed plan to raise school-leaving age to 18 came into place, they are now on the opposition trying to stop scrapping of EMA. Labour ministers lost the parliamentary vote to stop this decision by Coalition and Andy Burnham expressed concern that the decision will force children out of full time education, he predicated a raise in crime and said it will influence students’ decision making. Liard (2010).

A survey conducted by Buie (2007) found no evidence of the impact of EMA except that it encouraged the benefit culture as most of recipients’ parents were on social benefits and their children might see it as the norm but Jaquette (2009) showed achievement rose by 10% with large numbers from disadvantaged communities. During this survey, students who were interviewed complained that some students just came to make up their hours and get paid and they were distracting lessons and stopping others from learning. In addressing the issue of students not in education, employment or training, (NEET) Buie (2007:3) said “they have become disengaged and disaffected well before the age of 16, and EMA has little impact on them”. This is why some researchers have suggested EMA should only be paid on achievement rather than waste it on young people who do not take interest in educational achievements.

However, Coalition is proposing to cut out EMA and raise school leaving age and replace EMA with Pupil-premium Fund in schools and the Discretionary Learner Support Fund in Colleges (DLSF). The learner support fund will cost ?78 million per year in comparison to EMA. Finlay et al (2007b: 233 ) called it “Flowers in the desert”. This indicates funding is likely to run out before provision is finished and students are not automatically entitled. Answering to questions in parliament, Mr. Hughes, Coalition’s access advocate strengthened their position by announcing that government could not sustain the system to carry on as it is, there is no money. He went on to warn that at EMA’s full value of ?564 million a year to cover 6480,000 students, the scheme is unsustainable. J. Lee (January 2011).

Rogers (December 2010:2) in support of the DLSF reiterates that “ensuring the most disadvantaged pupils get the support they need has to be our priority”. This fund is paid directly to FE colleges. Principals and Managers of these institutions will use their discretion to decide how this money will be used in line with the 1992 Education Act which urged Principals and Managers of FE colleges to provide students in their colleges with financial or other help of any nature as they consider fit. This gives autonomy to colleges and the money will be properly targeted.

The public argument against scrapping of EMA is partly based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children and the ten year strategy for children and young people (UNCRC) for 2008-2011. The convention mentions the importance of developing a culture which considers matters that impact on children and young people and review them routinely. Bearing in mind the requirements of the convention, the 2009 Youth Conference agreed EMA will be made available to all post -16 students without considering parents’ earnings. In view of what is going on currently, Coalition would dispute the later part of this statement because it is not targeted specifically towards poor students.

Labour opposed scrapping of EMA from the point of view that without funding, policy on inclusive education is rendered ineffective and support for learners with special educational and additional needs will drop, compromising their job prospects, adding numbers to the benefit bill and social mobility will be affected as students cannot move out of the grips of poverty. Mittler (2005) defines policy on inclusion as affording each person the help they need to achieve. Scrapping their EMA will open the poverty gap between the rich and poor, causing educational inequalities, as many will not be able to stay on in education.

Colleges and other FE institutions delivered inclusive education because the EMA afforded students to attend but without it, it will be hard to bring students back from the NEET. EMA was the attraction, encouraging access and equality of opportunities. Laird (2010) EMA confirmed that in the past six years post-16 participation has improved by 30 percent and she links this back to the fact that EMA was introduced, and encouraged children to stay on. Labour also goes on to say the cost of EMA will be outweighed by the higher wages the students will earn in the long run when they are qualified and benefits payments will be reduced.

Organisations campaigning against scrapping of EMA, (Save EMA and Unison) considered taking legal action against the Coalition for failing to recognise an earlier statement which stated that learners who had started new programmes in 2010 will continue to receive the EMA until 2013. Coalition has now said all EMA funding will stop at the end of the 2010 academic year.

Crime data published by the Home Office Offenders Index showed that during the pilot period EMA had a positive impact on reducing crime. Table 4 shows a reduction of crime in all areas where the young people received EMA. Violent crimes remained high. This may be due to the different types of crimes constituting “violent crime.”

Table 4 showing crime reduction in pre- and post- EMA periods

Areas with EMAViolent1,645Burglary 4, 219

Theft 7, 6431,4682,230

Areas without EMA Violent 1,137Burglary 2,227

Theft 7,6430, 9771,176


Source:Hirschfield (2004)

The areas chosen were known to have high crime rates and the main perpetrators were young men. The differences in crime rate between EMA and Non-EMA areas could mean the likelihood of other crime reducing strategies working alongside EMA but the evidence is there that EMA helps to reduce theft and burglary crimes by providing ready cash for young people and they do not have to get it by illegal means.

From teachers’ perspective, EMA has helped to develop parents’ interest in the education of their children. They were involved at the initial application of EMA and phoned the institution if there was a problem with the student’s payments and the teachers used this opportunity to discuss other issues pertaining to the education of the particular student. One parent admitted “On occasions the threat of loosing his EMA got him out of bed” Jones R (2010:2). FE teachers see the removal of EMA as a real challenge for them to get students motivated to attend. This confirms Labour’s argument that EMA has improved attendance and participation. Student A. who has made it to CambridgeUniversity said he would not have made it if it wasn’t for EMA. The Guardian (April 2010).

In contrast, Coalition, in 2010 recorded students’ reactions to a question which asked them what effect scrapping of EMA would have on their education and choice of destinations. Students responded in the following manner:

45% said none.

42% said they would have stayed in education but would have needed to take a part time job.

7% said they would have gone into work-based learning.

6% said they would not have stayed on at all.

The evidence is shown here that 90% young people would have stayed on with or without EMA. Bolton (2011)

Poorer students have been cut off from the social arena and their window of opportunity has been closed. This is breaching ‘Every Child Matters’ policy aspect on “making positive contribution, enjoying and achieving economic wellbeing”. It is extremely difficult to meet these objectives under the current situation. The Child Act (2006) stated that providers incorporate “Every Child Matters” frame work and that it is Ofsted inspected but in any political climate according to Ball (1997:105),) “policies shift and change their meaning in the arenas of politics” and they are understood and used differently by different actors with different interests. Steer et al (2007

This researcher has seen how EMA helped young Asian women, who would otherwise be married off by their fathers the moment they finished compulsory education. EMA has helped them avoid becoming victims of their culture. Parents arranged forced marriages if girls were not engaged in education. Mirza (2009) described it as being persuaded into a marriage against ones will in the name of family honour. During class discussion on scrapping of EMA the girls told the researcher this decision by Coalition had hit them hardest. They said staying on in education was the only way of delaying forced marriages. The diverse nature and cultural backgrounds of students need to be considered when making decisions so that certain groups of the population do not feel excluded and victimised by the system. This is in accordance with the UN Convention 2010-2011.

Another EMA recipient, student B who is studying sciences to qualify to study medicine said “I will have to take a part time job as my parents cannot afford transport and lunch money for me but I know that I shall have less study time and it will have an impact on my results”. Recipient C said she lived on her own and uses some of her EMA to pay bills and transport and if she does not get it she will have to stop studying for her Level 2 English and Mathematics. Student C said he was from a working class background and although he only received ?10 a week it went a long way to help him complete his studies. This shows how students have been affected by scrapping of EMA in their individual situations and how it might alter their destinations. Coalition has effectively altered provision and opportunities available to students. Bolton (January 2010)

Coalition is considering a 14-19 funding system and extending the pupil-premium fund to FE colleges. The extra money could be used to hire more staff or improve facilities which will benefit more people than paying EMA to a few individuals. Government will pay more money to colleges who enrol more students from poor backgrounds. A research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that post-16 study is a follow up of good GCSE’s.It is, therefore, meaningful to stop EMA and spend money on improving pupils’ grades at this level.

The impact of scrapping EMA in the researcher’s organisation influenced behaviour management and pedagogy. On starting a course students sign an EMA contract which binds them to rules on attendance, time keeping, acceptable behaviour and achievement. The researcher used this contract as a tool to encourage positive behaviour and students’ EMA payment would be stopped if parts of the contract were breached. When the announcement to scrap EMA was made, the researcher felt disarmed and discouraged. EMA was used to motivate and discipline students.

Students who enrolled after January 2010 often missed sessions complaining they had no bus money and borrowed money to buy lunch from staff members. Some students left before completing their courses to get jobs. Enrolment numbers dropped. Several students openly said “I only came to collect my money. If I don’t get paid I don’t come”. These students disrupted lessons and abusing the EMA.

Decreasing student numbers caused financial deficits which resulted in staff redundancies. The manager controlled purchasing of stationary. Her decisions adversely affected teaching due to lack of resources. Students who completed Level 2 English and Maths did not apply to colleges due to uncertainty about EMA. This impacted on the organisation’s finances as they could not make claims on progression. On the other hand, there were some good outcomes. Some students said they will have to stop smoking, drinking, cut down on mobile phone calls and nights out because they could not afford them anymore.

In the researchers’ professional practice, scrapping of EMA brought the realisation that the job was more pastoral care than teaching, there was need for a sympathetic approach and more understanding when addressing students’ problems. The researcher learnt new behaviour management techniques which promoted conformity and encouraged achievement. Using EMA to control behaviours was punitive and unethical. The method did not foster good student –teacher relationships. Methods of planning and presenting lessons changed to captivate interest and enthusiasm to cater for students who were at risk of dropping out. The generic lesson plans produced by the company were not student-centred. The researcher became more pro-active and innovative in sourcing out learning aids as there was no money to purchase them from shops.

Regionally, institutions of FE offered staff voluntary redundancies as they fore saw reduced numbers of students enrolling on courses after the scrapping of EMA. There seemed to be more young people on the streets during week days which could be indicative of children going back to NEET. There were radical changes in contracts at the local college to embrace the changes. Learners complained they have not been listened to. Many students took poorly paid part-time jobs to fund transport to college and pay for educational materials. One office which referred students from NEET to institutions of FE closed their High Street office and moved into a small place and some staff made redundant. A local Youth Centre run by the NHS has reported a rise in numbers of young people frequenting the place to play games and watch television during week days.


At the beginning of this paper seven key issues were identified and have been used to analyse the impact of the scrapping of EMA on post16 students and their choice of destinations. EMA influenced students’ decisions to stay in education after the age of 16 and fulfilled it’s policy objectives on widening participation of students from poor backgrounds, inclusion and social mobility. The NEET cohort was reduced because students were rewarded financially for turning up, making their study look like work. EMA had a positive effect on students’ decision making and choices of destinations, encouraging equal access to opportunities. In terms of crime reduction, EMA played an important role alongside other crime reduction mechanisms. EMA encouraged parental support and dialogue with staff. Children perform better when they feel supported by family.

Every child in this country deserves to benefit from a healthy economic environment which embraces those born into poverty according to Children’s Act 2004 and Youth Matters. Every citizen aspires to benefit from a society with strong educational achievements, skilled people and reduced crime rates. Our government shoulders the responsibility to ensure every child achieves their full potential by putting in place economic policies which do not create stumbling blocks for young people but point them towards the right direction and provide the necessary help for them to complete their learner journeys.No of words: 4,359


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