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Education Maintenance Allowance

Part of Opposition Day — [9th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education 2:15 pm, 19th January 2011

In a second.

The reason why we are replacing EMA-beyond the desperate financial situation that we inherited-is that we are making our policy based on evidence that was commissioned, sifted, prepared and analysed by an organisation that was working for the previous Government. The National Foundation for Educational Research was commissioned by my predecessor to look at the barriers to continued participation in education for 16, 17 and 18 year-olds. I shall go into some detail about what the report argued. It concluded that the EMA or any replacement for it should be targeted better at those young people who feel that they cannot continue in learning without financial support. That argument has consistently been made in the debate by a number of people from different parties. Yes, we acknowledge that there will have to be cuts-although the right hon. Member for Leigh will not say how many-and yes, we acknowledge that some of the people who currently receive it might not be the most deserving. If the economy were growing it would be fantastic to offer that incentive, but given that it is not, let us make sure that those most in need are supported.

Half of young people receive the EMA, but only 12% of them-so 6% of students overall-said that they needed financial support to stay in learning. The NFER says that financial support should be increasingly targeted at those most in need, and I could not agree more. Specific financial barriers to learning-which have, I must in fairness add, been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Leigh-are faced by particular students. I am particularly conscious of the need to support students who have learning difficulties, and I am aware that when students have caring responsibilities they need more support. I am particularly aware that when students are teenage parents, additional financial support will be required because of their specific circumstances. In the scheme that we are developing, all those considerations weigh heavily with me.

There are also individuals in specific circumstances who need additional support, as the right hon. Member for Leigh has also pointed out. Additional support sometimes depends on the course one pursues. If one is pursuing a catering course, the cost of buying whites and knives and so on will be more than the cost of an academic course in a sixth form where the books are supplied and the costs of participation are less. We need to take that into account, as well as the need for straightforward support. There are poorer students at school who will be eligible for free school meals-and quite right too-who will not have that support in FE colleges. One of the questions in my mind is how we can ensure that the basic maintenance needs to keep body and soul together, which poorer students require, will be available, whatever institution they attend.

There are also students-particularly, but not exclusively, in rural areas-who face barriers to participation because of transport costs and transport sparsity. Again, I am looking at all those areas. I am helped by the detailed work that has already been undertaken by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. His job as access advocate is not just to explain how our policies can help social mobility at every stage; he is making sure that the replacement for EMA deals with all the real-world issues. I am grateful to him for his support, as I am grateful to any hon. Member who can make constructive suggestions about how we can better target the money given the constraints under which we operate.