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Education Maintenance Allowance

Volume 518: debated on Monday 15 November 2010

9. What discussions he has had with head teachers on the Government’s plans to end the education maintenance allowance. (23526)

In reaching the decision to end the EMA scheme, we have focused on the evaluation evidence and other research which indicates that EMA does not effectively target those young people who need financial support to enable them to participate in learning. It will be replaced by a scheme that does.

I take it from that that the Minister has not had any discussions with head teachers. When he does, does he think that they will welcome taking on the role of prying into family finances as well as their other duties? What implications does he foresee for the relationship between the young person and their school or college if they are turned down for financial support? Will there be an appeals system to ensure that the process is fair?

In my ministerial role, I have conversations all the time with head teachers and college principals. What I know—I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not know this, because she cares about these things deeply—is that such people are almost always best placed to make the sensitive judgments about learners that she describes.

I note the confidence of the Minister’s response about the replacement for EMA, but if that replacement—be it the enhanced learner support fund or whatever—proves inadequate, will he commit himself to reintroducing EMA for children from the poorest backgrounds?

The hon. Gentleman, again, shares my profound concern for social mobility and social justice. He can be assured that the Government will take the necessary steps to make sure that disadvantaged learners get every help to fulfil their potential. That is at the heart of our mission.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I have today received a letter from the principal of Xaverian sixth-form college in my constituency, 55% of whose student roll are on EMA? The principal says:

“The decision to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance will cause great suffering”

among those on her student roll, and particularly

“those with low achievement levels, those from ethnic minorities and those from single-parent families.”

Will the hon. Gentleman drop this damaging policy?

The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of the House and he is diligent in studying all these matters. He will be very familiar with the evaluation evidence, which shows that EMA is ineffective at targeting the very people he described. I am reminded of Chesterton, who said:

“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”

In replacing the EMA, which had a large degree of dead-weight cost, with something more targeted, will my hon. Friend maximise the freedom of individual schools and colleges to adapt to suit their individual locality, address real need and truly widen access?

Absolutely. That is just the kind of discretion that lies at the heart of our policy. I am disappointed that Opposition Members do not share our faith in governors, head teachers and teachers to do their best by learners, whose interests we hold so dear.