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Education Maintenance Allowance

Volume 504: debated on Monday 25 January 2010

2. What his policy is on the future of the education maintenance allowance; and if he will make a statement. (312578)

The pre-Budget report announced an investment of £8.2 billion in 2010-11 to fund 1.6 million places and meet our September guarantee to school leavers of a school, college or apprenticeship place. We expect to spend about £580 million on education maintenance allowances which will fund a further 80,000 places, and in 2011 we will remove the EMA bonus scheme to ensure that we can guarantee EMA payments to all students who need them.

Many young people in my constituency have benefited from what the Welsh Assembly Government have done in parallel with the Department. They use the money wisely to help young people stay in education beyond 16. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that some people are talking even about depriving young people of such things? For example, the nationalist Government in Scotland have decided to steal the money from the young people who need it most—those who are staying on in school and trying to do the best they can for their futures.

This is rightly a devolved matter, so it is for the Administrations in Wales and Scotland to decide, but the evidence shows that EMA payments increase participation in education beyond the age of 16 for children from poorer backgrounds. Any decision to scale back funding for EMA payments would be a very retrograde step.

My constituent, Mrs. Nicholas, is a widow with twin daughters, Emily and Sarah, who are clever enough to be studying for their A-levels a year ahead of their age cohort. As a result, they have been told that they do not qualify for the education maintenance allowance. Is that not an unfairness? Will the Secretary of State pledge to put it right?

I am happy to look at the details of the case raised by the hon. Lady. If she gives me those details, I shall write back to her. The purpose of the EMA is to ensure that finance is not a barrier to young people staying in school, college or an apprenticeship place after the age of 16 as they go into further study. There would be an even greater barrier if those places did not exist. At least with the Labour party, people know that there will be a school leavers’ guarantee this September.

Does my right hon. Friend agree not only that education maintenance allowances have been a success but that when they are clustered with what we have done in opening up diplomas, which are growing healthily, and with new apprenticeships, they give 14 to 19-year-olds a real alternative for the first time in the history of education in our country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The fact is that we have a higher number of young people staying on in education after 16 than we have ever had, and that is really good preparation for when education to 18 becomes the law in a few years’ time. Whether education takes place in school, in college or through an apprenticeship, it is vital to have qualifications that meet the needs of every student, whether they are more academic or want more vocational learning. It is also vital to ensure that they are not pushed down one route because their family says, “I’m really sorry, but you’ve got to go to work as we can’t afford full-time study.” That is what EMAs deal with. To propose that they should be scaled back or abolished would be a very retrograde step for social justice in our country.