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Post-16 Education Funding

Volume 526: debated on Monday 28 March 2011

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to a make a statement on education after the age of 16.

Today’s statement builds on the work of my colleagues such as the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), the original architect of the pupil premium; the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), who has secured additional funding for reform of early years and special needs provision; my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who has been leading the coalition’s radical programme of work on social mobility; and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), whose work as advocate for access to education has been driven by the ethical imperative of making opportunity more equal.

All of us know that an increasingly competitive world economic environment means that our children need to be better educated than ever. Sadly, however, we have been falling behind other nations in our educational performance. The OECD has reported that despite sharply rising school spending over the past 10 years, England has slipped down the international rankings from fourth to 16th for science, from seventh to 25th for literacy and from eighth to 28th for mathematics. Last month, in a new report, the OECD revealed that we have one of the most unequal education systems in the developed world. We have a system of education spending that is fundamentally inefficient, and we have an insufficient supply of high-quality vocational education.

The OECD’s challenge is underlined by the conclusions of Professor Alison Wolf’s report on vocational education. Professor Wolf has revealed that nearly half of school leavers never secure five decent GCSEs including English and maths, and that many of the qualifications that they currently secure are not respected by employers and colleges. The case for reform that she makes is unanswerable. We cannot carry on with a vocational education system that is broken, and we are determined to ensure that we have a technical education system that is among the world’s best.

Action has already been taken by my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning. The number of new apprentices taken on in the last quarter was 54,000, 8% up on last year, and I expect that number to rise further in the months ahead. More young people are being trained for work, and the number of young people between the ages of 16 and 18 not in education, employment or training actually fell by 15,000 in the last quarter of last year. However, we know that more needs to be done. In particular, action needs to be taken to reduce bureaucracy. That is why my hon. Friend will be working with me in the months ahead to make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to hire apprentices, so that we can ensure that the next generation enjoys opportunities that were denied the last.

Critically, we know that the biggest determinant of whether students can stay on is their attainment at the age of 16, and specifically whether they secure good GCSEs in subjects that universities and employers value. So to raise attainment, especially among poorer students, we have radically extended our academies programme, introduced a new, more aspirational measure of performance, the English baccalaureate, and are investing an additional £2.5 billion in the pupil premium for students who are in school to the age of 16. Today I can confirm that, building on the pupil premium, we will introduce additional funding for the education of students over the age of 16 who stay on at school and college.

We are already increasing funding for post-16 education next year to more than £7.5 billion, which is equivalent to more than 1.5 million places in schools, colleges and training. Within that £7.5 billion, £770 million is being spent on supporting the education of disadvantaged 16 to 18-year-olds. That is £150 million more than would previously have been available to schools and colleges specifically for the education of the most disadvantaged 16 to 19-year-olds. Nearly 550,000 young people will benefit from that student premium.

As we plan for more students to stay on, so we must reform how we fund the institutions that educate young people over the age of 16. I will therefore consult on a fairer funding formula for all schools and colleges in the sector. Already, thanks to the measures taken by the coalition Government, there will be more places in schools and colleges for students, particularly those who want a high-quality technical and vocational education. Because of the steps that we have taken to reduce waste and remove inefficiencies, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer released in the Budget another £125 million to build new schools and colleges in England. We will double the number of university technical colleges planned from 12 to 24, and we will work with leading figures in industry and commerce to create a new generation of 16-to-19 technical academies that will support the growth industries of the future.

All schools should have the ability to benefit from a closer engagement with business, so I have today asked Bob Wigley, the chair of the Education and Employers Taskforce, to bring forward proposals that will allow every school to develop a link with local businesses through engagement with volunteer governors.

However, we must also ensure that no young person is prevented from staying in education or training for financial reasons. The education maintenance allowance was used by the previous Government to provide an incentive for young people to stay on, and it led to a small increase in overall participation, but as a report commissioned by the previous Government pointed out, there are real questions as to whether it is socially just to pay 45% of students a cash incentive to stay in learning when we could concentrate our resources on removing the barriers to learning faced by the poorest.

The social justice case for reform has already been made—by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), when he was Education Secretary in the previous Labour Government. He said in 2007 that the EMA was an incentive that

“we will not be using”

in future. Instead, he argued, a Labour Government would need to “divert that” EMA “money into other areas”.

“What we will need to do”,

he argued on behalf of the Blair Government, is

“offer…assistance to youngsters…from poorer backgrounds”,

which is precisely what I propose to do.

Today, I can announce the shape of the new, more targeted, student support scheme that we pledged to introduce last autumn. We have consulted extensively to ensure that we support those most in need, and I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark for the work that he has done to help to secure a progressive solution.

The Government have already ensured that every household in which the family are not on the higher rate of tax, and where children stay on in school after the age of 16, will receive increased child benefit, and today I propose to increase the amount of support that we give to the most vulnerable. Twelve thousand students, those in care, care leavers and those receiving income support, including the severely disabled, should in future all receive an annual bursary of £1,200 if they stay on in education—more every year than they ever received under EMA.

I also propose that those most in need who are currently in receipt of EMA be protected. All young people who began courses in 2009-10 and who were told that they should receive EMA will still receive their weekly payments. Young people who started courses in the 2010-11 academic year and received the maximum weekly payment of £30 should now receive weekly payments of at least £20 until the end of the next academic year.

In addition, those students will be eligible for support from an entirely new post-16 bursary scheme. Our scheme will help to ensure that the costs of travel, food and equipment for poorer students are properly met, so that no one is prevented from participating through poverty. One hundred and eighty million pounds will be available for that bursary fund, which is enough to ensure that every child eligible for free school meals who chooses to stay on could be paid £800 per year—more than many receive under the current EMA arrangements.

Schools and colleges will have the freedom to decide on the allocation of the bursary. They are best placed to know the specific needs of their students, and we will give professionals full flexibility over allocating support. We will now consult on the implementation of the new scheme, so that allocations can be made for the new arrangements to come into effect from this September.

In these extremely difficult economic times, the coalition Government are prioritising the reform and investment we need across the education system. We are providing more investment in the early years to tackle entrenched poverty; tougher action to turn around underperforming schools; more investment in improving the quality of teaching, especially for the most disadvantaged; higher standards for all children at every stage, to get more going on to college and into fulfilling jobs; more academies to extend opportunity across the country; sharper accountability for how every penny is spent and how every pupil is taught; and more autonomy for all professionals, so that we can compete with the best.

We must ensure that we at last have a world-class education system in the decade ahead, and I commend this statement to the House.

On Saturday, thousands of young people came out on to the streets to speak out against the unfair decisions of this Secretary of State. On the “Today” programme, he was dismissive of their actions:

“Evan Davis: Will the march, however big it is, change your mind about any aspect of this cuts agenda? Michael Gove: No.”

Given that so many people no longer have any faith in a word he says, perhaps it is entirely to be expected that he is here, just 48 hours later, announcing a humiliating climbdown. I do not think that we can dignify today’s announcement with the word U-turn. He has taken a successful policy that improved participation, attendance and achievement in post-16 education, and turned it into a total shambles.

I will remind the House of the background. Before the election, both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister made personal promises to young people that the EMA would stay. Even after the election, the schools Minister, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), pledged to keep it. Then, out of nowhere, the Secretary of State cut it by 90%, and today, under pressure, he tries to put a positive gloss on a 60% cut. Whatever he says, that is what it is—a successful scheme praised by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and leading economists cut by two thirds. Young people have seen through this and will not be taken in by this Secretary of State.

The truth is that with his confused decision making, the Secretary of State has already thrown into chaos thousands of young lives. Even today, many will be none the wiser about their futures. I will take three issues. First, on the money, I have a simple question: where is it coming from? How much is coming from elsewhere in the education budget? Will this announcement not cause chaos elsewhere? Is it true that he is cutting the careers service even further to pay for it—a service already in meltdown thanks to the complete failure of Ministers to manage the transition to a new service? If new money is being provided by the Treasury, how much and why was it not announced in last week’s Budget?

Secondly, on the numbers who will benefit, the Secretary of State claims that the poorest 12,000 students will receive more than under the current scheme. What he did not say is that it amounts to 77p a week more. What has he got to say to the other 588,000 young people who stand to lose over £1,000 a year and to whom he gave a personal promise that they would keep this support? On the Opposition day debate, he stood at that Dispatch Box and promised that his new scheme would help with travel costs and equipment, and provide help for young parents, carers, those leaving care and young people with learning disabilities. Can he today assure the House that all of those promises are met by this announcement? What about the estimated 300,000 first-year students in the middle of a two-year course? He knows that a legal opinion obtained by the Labour party showed that these students had a strong case against the Secretary of State. Is it not the case that today’s partial climbdown was only prompted by the threat of legal action and the panic realisation that he was at risk of yet another reverse in the courts?

Thirdly, on how this scheme will work, we welcome the Secretary of State’s climbdown on keeping a national automatic payment system for about 2% of current recipients. Is it not the case, however, that under his proposed scheme more than half a million young people will no longer have any guarantee of the level of support they can expect? Does not that lack of clarity in this new scheme run the same risk of thousands of young people walking away from education altogether? The fact is that his proposals fail to build on the strengths of the current system. Is it not the case that college principals and senior staff will be spending a huge amount of their time administering this fund and will be placed in the invidious position of having to make impossible decisions between equally deserving claims for support? Will there be any national criteria for eligibility and, if not, are we looking at an unfair postcode lottery?

Will the new scheme replicate the weekly conditional payments that have helped to boost attainment and stay-on rates? Five months ago the Secretary of State made a decision that dropped a bombshell on young people in this country, and we are told today that there will now be a further period of consultation—more consultation! Young people are facing a difficult enough future, but still they do not know what financial support they will get. We are five months away from the start of the academic year, yet people working in education do not have the precise details.

This is yet another shambles from a Secretary of State who lurches from one disaster to another: Building Schools for the Future, school sport partnerships, Bookstart and now EMA. The pattern is always the same—a snap decision, no consultation, no evidence to support it and then a grass-roots backlash as his policy unravels before our eyes. It is becoming ever clearer that this is a Secretary of State out of his depth—who has not worked out the difference between being a journalist and being a Minister, and whose shortcomings have been cruelly exposed in office. His transformation is indeed a remarkable one—from the Tory golden boy to the coalition Mr Bean.

But the danger with this Secretary of State is that his incompetence is having a direct effect on the hopes and dreams of thousands of young people. Even after today’s announcement, with universities lining up to charge the full £9,000 in fees and youth unemployment at record levels, thousands of young people will still have to downgrade their ambitions, leave their studies and give up hope of a university education. Is that not a damning indictment of any Secretary of State for Education?

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those questions. I am grateful for his reference to people being out of their depth—I will of course acknowledge his expertise in this area. I am also grateful to him on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills for once more recycling the Mr Bean joke—the copyright on that joke will ensure that the right hon. Gentleman enjoys a successful and happy retirement in years ahead.

The first question that the right hon. Gentleman asked was: where is the money coming from? The answer is that the money for all public spending comes from the taxpayer. It was on his watch that the taxpayer got a spectacularly bad deal from a Government who spent every penny and left this coalition Government with a difficult economic inheritance. He asked whether the money would be allocated by discretionary means. I pointed out in my statement that it absolutely will. He argued that college principals would face an invidious decision, but he must know that it was the Association of Colleges that argued that the new fund should be put in place on discretionary principles. Perhaps he should consult college principals before claiming to speak on their behalf.

The right hon. Gentleman accused the coalition at one point of engaging in no consultation, and of having too much at another. There was no consistency at all in the questions that he asked. There has been a certain consistency in his position in one area, however, and that is his consistent refusal to state what his alternative would be. The truth is that Labour does not have a policy on this issue or any other education issue. We know what the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle thought: he said that we should divert money from the EMA to the poorest. We know what the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) thought: that we should divert money from child benefit to pay for EMA. However, we do not know what the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) thinks, beyond believing that students should have money to go out for drinks with friends.

We do not know how the right hon. Gentleman would pay for his alternative to our proposal, because he has opposed every saving that we have made. We do not know what he thinks people should be studying when they are not going out, because he has opposed every reform to raise standards. He has no policies on education other than blanket opposition. No wonder he did not join the march for an alternative on Saturday—he does not have one.

I welcome the statement and the funding—which is greater than was originally expected—going into the new bursary scheme. I also welcome the focus on the poorest, to whom it is appropriate to ensure that that funding goes. Can the Secretary of State tell the House on what basis the money will be allocated? Will it be based on free school meals? Indeed, is that part of the consultation? Can he also confirm again that colleges will have total freedom in how they spend the money, so that they can provide directly for transport, for instance?

The Chairman of the Select Committee on Education asks two intimately related and very good questions. On the first, I can confirm that we intend as closely as possible to mirror funding for the replacement scheme and existing funding, which was given to colleges on the basis of EMA entitlement. However, as he rightly points out, in the consultation, which will relate to the implementation of the scheme, we will take on board the points made by college principals and others, in order to ensure the fairest possible distribution of funding. Unlike with the EMA, college principals will have explicit flexibility under our scheme to be able to provide for transport, among other needs.

Any change from the Secretary of State’s former proposals is welcome, and we are certainly in favour of those in the greatest need getting the greatest amount of help. I recently visited Kirklees college in Huddersfield and found that what was being taken away from most of the young people there was the ability to get to college. The EMA was being spent on transport and food, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will join me in dispelling the myth that people were using it as spending money for drinking and parties.

We want to ensure that those who need help to pursue their learning have that help, and that is why the money will be in the hands of principals. That arrangement will be more flexible, and the money will be targeted precisely on the need for food, transport and equipment. By ensuring that fewer people receive it, we can also ensure that those in need receive more.

I welcome the £194 million of transitional support for those who are currently on EMA. I also welcome the fact that the more targeted support will be delivered through schools and colleges. When I was last speaking to a group of students at Nelson and Colne college, many of them said that it was far better to have discretionary support provided by the college for transport and for course-related costs, rather than a cash payment. Does the Secretary of State agree with them?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I know that Nelson and Colne college has particular issues relating to transport. The new, flexible fund will enable us to ensure that those learners, particularly those most in need and who need the most help with transport, will receive timely support that will enable them to carry on learning at that highly successful institution.

It is not much of a claim for the Secretary of State to say that the scheme he is now offering is more generous than abolition. He has caused huge confusion in the minds of young people in my constituency. In his statement, he said: “Our scheme will help to ensure that the costs of travel, food and equipment for poorer students are properly met, so that no one is prevented from participating through poverty.” How is he defining “poverty” in those specific circumstances?

As I explained in my statement, enough money is available in the fund to ensure that every student who is eligible for free school meals could receive £800, which is more than they would receive at the moment. Of course there is a lively debate about how we should define “poverty”, but the decision by both parties on the Government Benches to target help on those eligible for free school meals seems to be a very good metric, as a starting point.

I thank the Secretary of State not only for his statement and for the additional financial support, but for a new scheme that seems to be a strong, grown-up successor to the education maintenance allowance. Does he agree that the evidence is clear that the wider the participation in further education is, the wider the participation in higher education will be? The new scheme will mean that no youngster from a poor family should be precluded from going to college for want of reasonable travel costs, all of which can be met under the scheme.

Absolutely. I want to take this opportunity to underline my gratitude to my right hon. Friend for the painstaking way in which he has consulted students across the country, and for the thoughtful way in which he has put forward his proposals to ensure that our aim for a discretionary fund targeted on the very poorest can be implemented effectively. He is absolutely right to say that if we encourage more students to take part in further education, we will be able to achieve our joint aim of ensuring that more students, particularly from the poorest backgrounds, go on to college and university.

I am very pleased that students who are in receipt of EMA will continue to get some financial support for the continuation of their course, but will the Secretary of State tell me what plans he has to monitor the new scheme to ensure that young people from lower-income families are not discouraged from entering further education?

The hon. Lady makes a very constructive point. We are going to consult on implementation. In the process of designing the new scheme, we have worked with the Association of Colleges, the Sutton Trust and others. I will be looking for evidence on the ground to ensure that all barriers are removed, and I would be very happy to work with the hon. Lady in the future. If she encounters any specific cases of students being unable to access the support that they need, we will ensure that they receive it.

I welcome the Education Secretary’s statement, particularly in relation to the more targeted support for those in real need. Josh and Georgia from Huddersfield New college in Salendine Nook came to see me on Friday in my constituency office. They were concerned about travel costs, including their train and bus fares, in our rural constituency in west Yorkshire. I see that the new arrangements will come into effect in September. How soon will colleges and sixth forms have the details of how the new arrangements will help with travel costs?

I know my hon. Friend used to be a lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan university, and he has been committed throughout his career to ensuring that students from poorer backgrounds enjoy appropriate access. I hope the arrangements announced today will give his constituents the flexibility they need to meet the specific travel costs that his rural part of Yorkshire compels students to meet.

Given that more than 3,500 young people in Barnsley currently claim EMA, can the Secretary of State guarantee that the number of 16 to 18-year-olds participating in education will not fall?

It is our intention to make sure that the number participating continues to increase. As I pointed out in my statement, the number of 16 to 18-year-olds not currently in education, employment or training fell in the last quarter. I hope that the number of apprenticeship starts to be revealed later this week will show that that strong trend is continuing encouragingly.

What message does the Secretary of State have to colleges such as the Bournemouth and Poole college in my constituency, which were so profoundly let down by the decision under the last Government to withdraw the funding for their capital project through the Learning and Skills Council? That means that young people aspiring to go to that college will now be taught in temporary classrooms. Is there anything the Secretary of State can say to reassure them about their future?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that it was under the last Government that the Learning and Skills Council’s capital scheme collapsed, causing no end of heartache to many principals and students who had hoped that they would be able to enjoy handsome new facilities. The Chancellor has released through the Budget £125 million of additional capital spending for England. That money is intended to ensure that we have a new generation of university technical colleges, but some of it will go to support 16-to-19 institutions as well.

The majority of post-16 students attend colleges and are not currently eligible for free school meals. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, in line with his statement, they will be eligible for free school meals in future and will be paid the additional £800 a year that he has just announced?

That is fair point. The hon. Gentleman was previously the principal of a very successful further education college. As he will know, many FE colleges simply do not have the facilities to be able to provide free school meals; they do not have the cafeterias or kitchens in place. What we need to do is ensure that students who are attending FE colleges have the money they need so that if they are travelling particular distances and are learning at different times, they receive the support they need—whether it be for subsistence, transport or equipment. We both know that the way in which students learn after the age of 16 is varied and does not follow the same pattern as the normal school day. That is why the provision has to be flexible in order to ensure that the very poorest receive the support they need.

While I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement on targeted assistance, may I remind him that he has seen for himself the inadequate conditions in which high school pupils in Alnwick are taught. When is he going to make an announcement about the capital scheme so that a bid can be put in to help provide a new school?

My right hon. Friend makes a fair point and we shall make an announcement shortly. I am sorry that we have not yet been able to provide additional support for the Duchess’s high school in Alnwick. As he knows, that school was not supported under the old Building Schools for the Future scheme, but we hope that the new method of allocating capital for schools, which we will announce, will allow those whose buildings were neglected by the last Government to receive support.

Last year, 7,700 of the poorest students in Liverpool were able to continue their studies because they received education maintenance allowance. How many of those students will receive equivalent support under the Secretary of State’s proposal to help only the very poor?

Without knowing the precise details of the composition of that larger number, I cannot say definitively. What I can say is that it will be constituencies such as the hon. Lady’s that are likely to benefit most, while constituencies such as my own are likely to benefit least. One problem with the EMA scheme was that 45% of students received money, which meant that we were not supporting constituencies like the hon. Lady’s, which deserve the most generous support that the coalition Government can give.

Young people in Harlow and elsewhere will welcome the investment in university technical schools. Will my right hon. Friend come to visit Harlow college, which is preparing a bid for such a school and would greatly welcome a visit from him. On EMA, I ask my right hon. Friend to consider giving bursaries to students who improve their academic performance, rather than basing them only on attendance?

I should be delighted to visit Harlow at some point to see what we can do to advance the very exciting plans for a university technical college. I am also happy to confirm that the flexibility of the new scheme will enable college principals to tailor it to the specific needs of students. It is true that the old EMA provided an incentive for attendance, but this scheme could help college principals to give more support to the very poorest students who put in the most impressive performances and whose learning needs to be supported most strongly.

Can the Secretary of State explain how the money enabling the college principals to give discretionary awards will be drawn down? Will there not be a perverse incentive for colleges not to take on pupils from poorer backgrounds because they are more likely to demand more money? Would it not be better for us to have a national scheme based on rights, with national application and national distribution? Such a scheme was pretty successful under EMA, resulting in more young people staying on at college and going to university.

The hon. Gentleman and I disagree on many matters of principle, but he is absolutely right to say that we must support the very poorest. That has been a consistent theme of his political career. The new scheme will allow the very poorest to receive more than they did under the previous scheme, and will enable college principals to target their resources on those who are most in need. I believe that those college principals, rather than the hon. Gentleman or me, are best placed to identify the needs of students.

I look forward to welcoming the Secretary of State to my constituency in the near future. As he knows, I support many of the educational changes he has introduced, but he will also know of the concern that I expressed about the EMA change. I welcome what he has now announced, and I certainly want nothing to do with the pooh-poohing of EMA. However, will he assure me that, although giving more discretion to education professionals is important, safeguards will be introduced to ensure that colleges which compete for students in areas such as mine will not be able to use the fund as a bribe to encourage students to attend those colleges rather than others?

I look forward to visiting both Lincolnshire and the east riding of Yorkshire on Friday. I recognise the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised, but I want to ensure that we trust professionals. When it comes to the admissions of pupils aged both 11 and 16, we need to ensure that schools are incentivised to attract the very poorest students, and that nothing can work against that.

May I first say how much City and Islington College—where 3,000 children currently receive EMA—is looking forward to the Secretary of State’s visit on 12 May? As we prepare for that visit, will he help us by clarifying something? At present, what I would term the poorest—those whose parents are on benefits and who have been given free school dinners—receive £1,170. Under the right hon. Gentleman’s current plans, only children who are in care, are care leavers or receive income support themselves will receive the maximum amount. EMA for children who were being given free school dinners and whose parents are on income support will be cut by a third. Is that right?

No, it is not right. It is the case that we will be paying more to those who are most in need—£1,200 for 12,000 students—and it is also the case that a discretionary fund will be available to ensure that college principals can decide that students with specific needs will receive exactly what they deserve.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the last Government commissioned research which had already concluded that we would need to move to a more targeted system for those in the most need?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. The former Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families commissioned work from the National Foundation for Educational Research, which demonstrated that we needed to target resources more effectively on the very poorest.

It is clear from the Secretary of State’s announcement that thousands of young people will lose out on funding as a result of the significant level of cuts. He has transferred the responsibility for bearing the bad news for those thousands to school and college heads. That is a massive task for them to undertake. How does he expect them to resource the task within individual schools?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making his point, and I know that he has been committed to supporting better educational outcomes in Sheffield. When we consulted on this scheme, college principals themselves said they would prefer it to be discretionary, and my understanding is that both the Association of Colleges and the Association of School and College Leaders say they would prefer to be able to allocate funds in that way.

I welcome the announcement that children in care and care leavers who stay on in education will receive an annual bursary of £1,200. In order to ensure that they have the best possible educational experience, will my right hon. Friend consider widening the scope of the Frank Buttle Trust quality mark, under which care leavers and children in care who move on to further or higher education have the assurance that their educational establishment will meet all their needs, including their educational needs?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will ensure that the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has particular responsibility for children in care, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning take that work forward. Today’s announcement of additional support for children in care and for care leavers follows on from last week’s announcement that such children will also receive support through a new individual savings account scheme, to ensure that they can build up a capital pot to help to support them in subsequent education or work.

As the Secretary of State will know, the introduction of the education maintenance allowance led to a big increase in stayers-on aged over 16 in Tower Hamlets. Has his Department assessed the impact of his proposals on boroughs such as Tower Hamlets, and if so, will he publish the results and compare them with what happens after his proposals have been implemented in September?

As we outlined at the time of the last spending review, we sought to construct a replacement scheme that would, within the resources available, be more progressive, and we believe that constituencies such as the hon. Gentleman’s will benefit more than some constituencies represented by Conservative Members. We will keep the scheme under review, however. A quality impact assessment has been prepared, and I will be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman if there are specific problems in supporting the many students in his cosmopolitan constituency who want to stay on.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I also welcome the consultation, but ask him to ensure that the details of the student bursary fund, including the allocations to further education colleges, are confirmed as quickly as possible, in order to give certainty to those students requiring assistance who are looking to enter further education this year.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. As ever, I wanted to balance the requirement to consult widely—and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) for talking to so many students about what exactly was required—with the need to move on so as to provide certainty to institutions. We undertook a process of consultation beforehand and brought forward these proposals in line with principles we outlined at the time of the comprehensive spending review. We will now consult in the next eight weeks in order to make sure the proposals can be implemented fairly.

Some 2,200 young people at Leicester college get the maximum EMA, precisely because they are from some of the poorest and neediest families in my constituency. There is obviously going to be a great deal of uncertainty about the future, so can the Secretary of State tell the House when colleges will receive the money for the new scheme and, crucially, when students and their families will learn about the criteria, because that is very important to them in deciding whether or not to stay on?

The first point to make is about the hon. Lady’s constituents who are already at college: if they received notice of their EMA support in the academic year 2009-10, they will receive the full amount; if they received notice in 2010-11, those who currently receive £30 will receive at least £20, and discretionary support will be available. We propose that the amount the college receives should be broadly in line with the amount it received beforehand, reflecting the level of need in the hon. Lady’s constituency, but we will be consulting on the implementation over the next eight weeks, so that the amount can be in place for distribution from September.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement and measures such as the money over and above what was originally talked about and, in particular, the transitional money. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) on the work he has done in his report to Government. However, I seek the Secretary of State’s assurance that he will continue to look at transport issues and ensure that sufficient money is provided in both urban and rural areas, so that transport provision is in place for people to access.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Some local authorities—I have mentioned before in the House Liberal Democrat Hull and Conservative Oxfordshire—do a very good job in providing transport for students staying on after the age of 16, but all local authorities need the support that this new scheme is intended to provide. I am also aware that, obviously, after the age of 16 students tend to travel further to their place of learning, particularly in rural constituencies such as the one my hon. Friend represents, and we will be working with the Association of Colleges and others to make sure they are supported.

The vast majority of EMA recipients are in households whose annual income is less than £21,000—no Member of this House is on anything like the same. If the Secretary of State can find money to fund his pet initiative on free schools, why can he not find money to show those young people that they are worthy of our support?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who worked very hard before she came into this House to shine a light on the difficult circumstances faced by children growing up in poverty. That is why we are spending £2.5 billion more over the lifetime of this Parliament on the education of the very poorest five to 16-year-olds. Of course the amount of money available for this support fund will mean that some students who currently receive cash will no longer do so, but it will also mean that more money is being spent on the education of the very poorest 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, as well as there being more money for their support. I believe that the progressive approach we are taking to education funding will mean that those she has spent her political career fighting for will benefit more from this Government than from the previous one.

Vocational learning will be crucial for us in rebalancing the economy. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the all-age careers service will radically change the quality of advice on vocational learning?

I can confirm that because, thanks to the brilliant work carried out by the Business Secretary and the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, we have an exciting new approach to providing support and advice for those in careers. In addition, thanks to the changes that we have made to accountability measures, through such things as the English baccalaureate and the Wolf review, we will ensure that students who in the past were not able to progress on to college and on to worthwhile jobs at last have the chance to succeed.

Under the current system, EMA payments are related to attendance and the completion of coursework, which in itself helps to raise attainment. What steps is the Secretary of State taking in the new scheme to include that provision? How will he ensure that enough money goes to colleges in the poorest areas under the new funding mechanism?

The hon. Gentleman makes two very good points. He mentioned, as I did, that one of the benefits that EMA brought was a linkage between attendance and the completion of coursework, and, thence, attainment. There will be flexibility for college principals to design their own schemes in order to reward not only attendance and the completion of coursework, but exceptional achievement, if they believe it is right to do so. The way in which we are weighting the allocation of funds to colleges is intended to ensure that the very poorest receive the most. The process of consultation over the next eight weeks, in which I hope the hon. Gentleman will participate, is intended to ensure that we accurately and fairly reflect the needs of the most disadvantaged.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting South Thames college, in my constituency, with the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). The comments we heard from young people that day bear little resemblance to the broad-brush rhetoric we have heard from those on the Opposition Front Bench today. What those young people did say was that they are keen to know what their options are at a much younger age. I very much hope that Ministers will give considerable thought to putting together a comprehensive package of intelligible information, to be made available to young people earlier than it is now, setting out the growing options post-16.

My hon. Friend makes two very important points. The truth is that among the generation in receipt of EMA there is not majority support for the continuation of the old scheme; they recognise that a more targeted scheme would be right. [Hon. Members: “What?”] I am terribly sorry, but Opposition Front Benchers should pay attention to what people think rather than what they imagine people think. Had they done so, it might have helped them to stay in power.

On my hon. Friend’s other point, we do need to ensure that people receive appropriate advice. As Professor Alison Wolf pointed out in her groundbreaking report, hundreds of thousands of young people received the wrong advice under the previous Government, which is why they are not in the fulfilling jobs that they needed to be in.

The principal of my local college, Tower Hamlets college, recently told me that in the light of the reduction in the overall EMA funding he would have to choose one out of four students from poorer backgrounds who could qualify. In the light of today’s announcement, will the Secretary of State confirm that the other three out of the four students who used to get EMA will now qualify? The people of Tower Hamlets live in an area with some of the highest child poverty in the country and, as he can imagine, this support is desperately needed—it is £1 million that the college needs. Will he please confirm that that is now available?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who has argued politely and persistently behind the scenes for the interests of her constituents. Like the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), she represents a constituency where need is greater. That is why Tower Hamlets continues to be among the best-funded local authorities for students between the ages of five and 16, why Tower Hamlets will benefit disproportionately from the pupil premium, and why I wanted to ensure that the replacement scheme supports the students she is anxious to help. I will work with her to ensure that those most in need get such help.

Up till now, the reform of EMA has been a complete PR disaster. How will the Secretary of State ensure that the improvements announced today will be outlined to young people to ensure that they will not be put off continuing in education post-16?

I will rely on the effective and persuasive advocacy of my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning.

The Secretary of State said a moment ago that EMA did not enjoy the support of the majority of the young people who received it. What was the source for that claim?

I welcome the statement and so will students at Peterborough regional college. I would resist the churlish response from those on the Opposition Front Bench, marked out by intellectual incoherence and opportunism. Is my right hon. Friend as surprised as I am that nowhere in the comments made by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) was there an apology for their record? Social mobility ossified in 13 years of Labour Government to the extent that more—

Order. May we have a question that falls within the responsibility of the Secretary of State and this statement?

More people went to Oxford university in those 13 years from one noted public school than from the entire care system. Is that not a legacy of shame?

We have already heard that students on EMA attended at a higher level than their peers and made disproportionate progress. Given that the Secretary of State has said many times that he wants to narrow the gap for those children, what measures will he put in place to monitor whether the children from the poorest families continue to have higher attendance and disproportionate progress, or will that be left to individual colleges? My question is about the specific monitoring proposals.

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. One thing that I am unhappy with is the system of accountability for post-16 education that we inherited. I believe we need a sharper system of accountability post-16 and, in particular, that system needs to focus on outcomes for the very poorest. One problem we inherited from the previous Government was that we did not have the information necessary to see how institutions were performing. It is only now that we know, for example, that only 16% of students, in the last year for which we have figures, managed to secure five good GCSEs including English, maths, science, a modern foreign language and a humanities subject. The fact is that those students eligible for free school meals did not succeed at anything like the same level as their wealthier contemporaries.

I welcome plans further to expand apprenticeships for post-16s. Does my right hon. Friend agree that small businesses could be encouraged and informed of these schemes by including promotional material in the annual business rates mailing?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I understand from my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning that we are doing just that with the National Apprenticeship Service.

Has the Secretary of State made any assessment of the possible impact on the viability of colleges and college courses of student numbers falling significantly when EMA’s replacement is no longer available to many thousands of young people who otherwise might have been eligible?

The hon. Lady has been a passionate campaigner against child poverty, but on this occasion I fear that her powers of logic are not doing her justice. The truth is that we know from all the research that was undertaken that of those eligible for EMA—45% of the total cohort—only 10% said that they would not have participated without that sum, which works out at about 4.5% overall. We will ensure that many more students than 4.5% of the total receive the support they need so that no student should be prevented from participating as a result of these changes. In fact, more of the very poorest students should be supported to participate. If there are any problems in the hon. Lady’s constituency in the operation of the scheme, I would be very happy to work with her to ensure that every student who needs support receives it.

Daventry has both a need and a desire for a university technical college and has had a bid before the Secretary of State for a number of weeks now that is well supported by the university of Northampton and schools and businesses in the town. Can he give us the timetable for announcements going forward?

I enjoyed a visit to Daventry to meet my hon. Friend a few weeks ago and I hope to go again in due course to work with him to bring forward plans for a new university technical college. Although I admire his ardour, I urge him to be a wee bit patient just at the moment because we are developing plans to move from 12 to 24, and in the next few months we should be able to bring them forward.

Many young people will share my right hon. Friend’s disappointment that his opposite number, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who was part of a Government who maxed out the country’s credit card and racked up levels of debt that people will have to repay for their entire careers, has had absolutely nothing constructive to say today. Will my right hon. Friend note that in the review of EMA, one comment was that a large proportion of Bangladeshi and Pakistani students relied on it? Will his review look into that to see what can be done to ensure that their participation in higher education can continue?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who is particularly concerned to ensure that students from ethnic minority backgrounds enjoy better opportunities. One thing that we will do is liaise with college principals to ensure that currently under-represented groups, particularly Bangladeshi and Pakistani students and especially Bangladeshi and Pakistani female students, are encouraged to participate in future.

Today’s announcement will benefit the most disadvantaged youngsters in my constituency, as elsewhere, but in these very difficult times for Government spending, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that the fund should be spent on transport and food rather than on “time out with friends”. Will he consider allowing colleges to distribute the money through vouchers for transport and food rather than in cash?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. He reminds the House of the right hon. Member for Leigh’s somewhat curious suggestion that we should maintain EMA to ensure that people can receive money to socialise. In fact, what we will be doing is making sure that transport, food and equipment are provided and my hon. Friend makes a good point that in some rural areas colleges or groups of colleges might wish to work together to ensure that transport needs are met.

As someone who benefited from free school meals, I welcome the focus that my right hon. Friend places on encouraging pupils from poorer backgrounds to stay in education. Does he recognise, however, that free school meals are not always taken up in rural areas and will he therefore ensure that it is eligibility, rather than take-up, that counts for access to the bursary?

That is a really good point and I want to deal with this issue. It is not only in rural areas that take-up of free school meals is lower than eligibility: that is also the case among some black and minority ethnic groups. We want to ensure that such eligibility is increasingly used as a means of targeting disadvantage and we think that the introduction of the pupil premium, which I know my hon. Friend helped to design in opposition, will ensure that more students take up their entitlements.

Young people in my constituency have told me that only EMA enabled them to stay on in further education, but others have told me that they used the money at Tesco to buy alcohol. Clearly, we have to ensure that money is targeted at the right people, but what controls will be imposed to ensure that the transitional funding is not abused?

We will do everything in our power, but colleges and college principals who understand the ecology of the local labour market and the needs of local students are often in a better position to tailor support than any Minister or bureaucrat sitting in Whitehall would be when developing that scheme in the abstract.

I strongly welcome the statement but I wish there had been a tiny glimmer of acknowledgement from the Opposition of the ground that has been shifted here. They all say that the person who never thought twice never thought once, and I want to thank the Secretary of State for thinking twice on this. Does he agree that this is not a U-turn because a U-turn takes you back to where you were before and we are not where we were before? Nobody who opposed the removal of EMA in our debate on this issue was of the opinion that it did not need to be reviewed, so I welcome the review. Will the Secretary of State give us an undertaking that there will be a review of the new proposals to make sure that we get to where we want to be—supporting children from deprived backgrounds to enable them to do what they want to do with their lives after 16?

I always take seriously what my hon. Friend says because before he came to the House he worked very hard as a councillor in Bradford to ensure that the education of the poorest children was enhanced. I am grateful to him for his support. The point that he makes—that we need to make sure that the new regime is kept under review to ensure that it helps the very poorest—is right. I look forward to working for him. The tough questions that he asks and the constructive support that he offers are a model to the rest of the House.

Thank you, Secretary of State and thank you all for the brisk answers and mostly brisk questions, which helped us get through a considerable number of Members’ questions.