Harry writes to the Education Minister, Tim Loughton MP, and challenges him on the Coalition’s cutting of EMA and the finer points of their “pupil premium”.
Dear Mr Loughton,
I am writing to you on behalf of the young people I represent in Sheffield as a Member of the UK Youth Parliament.
The government last year announced an end to the Education Maintenance Allowance. An allowance in my opinion that provided monetary support for those from poorer backgrounds, allowing them to access higher and further education facilities, recognise their potential, attend university if that was the right direction for them, and hence, contribute to their own self worth. Not only did EMA provide an incentive for people to appreciate their own skill and enter professional life, but it also acted to increase the number in our skilled workforce by encouraging people who wouldn’t have stayed on in education to continue and study.
600 000 young people received between 10 and 30 pounds per week to support them in their endeavours to succeed. This money was used to buy textbooks for revision, resources such as writing materials for the classroom, and extracurricular activities to not only fulfil curriculum requirements, but enrich their outlook on life and experience in the real world. The news that this would be coming to an end shocked and surprised many who had been calling for it to be maintained.
The government failed in this sense to act on the will of the people as time and time again, head teachers, parents and most importantly those receiving the allowance tried to seek assurances that their opportunity to learn would not be inhibited. Their concerns fell on death ears, and although EMA was supported in both yours and the liberal democrats manifesto, there was no consultation put in place to agree on an alternative, instead a sweeping cut to the money and a sweeping cut to the prospects of those receiving it. Although one of the arguments for EMA’s abolition was the abuse by some users of the system, my riposte would be that the abuse of parliamentary expenses has not led to an abolition of parliamentary expenses, simply an increase in regulation.
In March, I welcomed the introduction of both the discretionary and guaranteed funds that would replace the EMA scheme. However, concerns were raised to me by fellow young people about the fact that only two thirds of those previously receiving EMA would receive this fund. There was also scepticism as to whether the guaranteed fund would be a sufficient replacement. Would the resources available to young people under EMA remain available under the new scheme? Would those receiving free school meals at GCSE level be automatically eligible for the guaranteed fund of 1200 pounds per year at sixth form or college? Moreover, in line with proposals set out by the Work & Pensions Secretary, would people be limited to claiming one single standard form of benefit, and therefore have to claim either the pupil premium or for example another needed benefit such as free school meals?
I would challenge the government to:
Review proposals put in place, ensuring they are not just as a result of political unpopularity
Assess the amount of support given to people on the discretionary fund, ensuring it is enough for them to pay for transport to and from school, resources like textbooks, internet access and writing materials and other costs of education such as extracurricular activities
Guarantee that those people receiving the payment will benefit from it.