The Education Minister Tim Loughton MP has outlined the new 16-19 Bursary Fund, argued a case for more targeted school support, and reassured that the replacement for EMA will be closely monitored during the period of its introduction.
In a letter to Harry, Mr Loughton responded to the concerns of the young people of Sheffield and the country. The Minister disputed the suggestion that the new systems of financial support would be an insufficient incentive to get young people into schools and colleges, and encourage them to realise their potential. He stated that the formal evaluation of EMA suggests that only around 10% in receipt of it would not have stayed in education without it. Whilst other studies corroborate this argument, it is Harry’s belief that the failure to provide for that 10% would have an unnecessarily damaging effect on their future prospects.
The Minister responded to Harry’s further question on whether or not people on free school meals would be eligible to get the full bursary of £1200. Mr Loughton said that there was no expectation that all young people on Free School Meals would receive the full bursary. They would instead be part of the Discretionary Fund administered by schools. Harry believes that there is an inconsistency in this policy. Free School Meals have in the past been used as an indicator of coming from a deprived family. A family that requires extra support for the young people a part of it, to give them the same opportunities as everyone else. By not guaranteeing funding, the coalition faces the problem of having a number of young people, who need support, would benefit from it, but who don’t have it.
In terms of the Universal Credit, Mr Loughton addressed Harry’s concern that the pupil premium would actually disadvantage some people. Mr Loughton reassured Harry that the pupil premium would be a separate form of support to the Universal Credit, and would not be counted in determining the Credit. Harry welcomes this, because access to education should be above any determination of benefit entitlement.
Finally, the Minister stated that the Department would monitor the first year of the 16-19 Bursary Fund. This promising move is in line with Harry’s suggestion in his original letter, that the Department review the new system, ensuring its introduction was not as a result of political unpopularity following the abolition of EMA. Harry’s core belief is that any scheme to help the most disadvantaged should be considerate of their specific needs.
Harry said “It is a fundamental principle of mine, that education should not be a privilege of the few, but an opportunity for all, regardless of wealth or status in society. In this sense, the Minister’s reply is reassuring. While I condemn the abolition of EMA, I do welcome the steps taken to introduce any replacement, albeit one that I believe needs to be administered by trained individuals, and also offer support for activities beyond the directly academic side of education. The coalition must prove that it is committed to helping the most disadvantaged young people in society, and determined in its goal to provide education for all.”