Good luck to all those receiving their GCSE results tomorrow! As thoughts turn to the start of a new academic year figures show that more than 17,000 disadvantaged young people failed to complete their studies in 2017.
Since the Government’s decision to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in 2010 these disadvantaged students, who are likely to have been eligible for the full £30 a week, missed out on up to £1,080 worth of support last year alone.
EMA was proven to support retention in education. Instead the Government replaced EMA with the age 16–19 bursary scheme, which is less than one-third of the value of previous spending on the EMA.
Figures from the Department for Education show that the proportion of 16-year-olds that are not in education, employment, or training has risen for the first time since the end of 2011. It’s the first increase in this group since the government introduced the Raising of the Participation Age policy in 2013 – aimed at encouraging young people to stay in education and training until age 18.
The Tories were told at the time that scrapping EMA was a mistake and eight years on students are still suffering.
In 2015, the Department for Education (DfE) published an impact report on the scrapping of EMA. The report found that the change disproportionately impacted the attainment and retention of low-income young people. Yet the Government chose to turn a blind eye.
Unlike EMA, the 16-19 bursary is discretionary which means the majority of disadvantaged students are not guaranteed any support from their education provider.
There are two types of award. The first is defined ‘vulnerable group bursaries’, and according to the DfE ‘only a small number of individuals are eligible for these – approximately 2% of the cohort in education and work based learning received them in 2013/14.’ The second type is discretionary bursaries, with allocations determined by colleges and schools at their discretion.
When we invest in people to develop their education and skills, we all benefit from a stronger economy and society. At a time when working lives and the skills our economy needs are changing rapidly, governments have the responsibility to make lifelong learning a reality by giving everyone the opportunity to access education throughout their lives.
I’m calling on the Government to reintroduce EMA and ensure that disadvantaged youngsters have the same life chances as everyone else.