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Education Maintenance Allowance

Part of Opposition Day — [9th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall 3:52 pm, 19th January 2011

I welcome my hon. Friend's contribution. Some crucial issues have been raised, including those on food and the cost of living as people continue their studies. I will come back to those in the questions that I ask the Minister.

Transport is a big issue in rural constituencies such as mine. Many students stay on in the excellent school sixth forms and others explore different opportunities, such as travelling to the fantastic Cornwall college, which is dispersed across the peninsula of Cornwall. Its excellent chief executive officer is concerned about what may happen because of the proposed changes to EMA. I welcome his contribution in talking to the Education Committee about those concerns. The fact is that changes and cuts in spending are needed, and the Government have decided to focus the money on the kind of early intervention that the Secretary of State spoke about.

I want to put some questions to the Minister on his deliberations about what will replace EMA. First, will he assure that House that he will work with other Departments, as well as considering the resources at his disposal, on issues such as transport; access to higher education, which is the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; and how local authorities can do more to help young people, which should be discussed with the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Association? The issue of free school meals is also important, and has been raised by several hon. Members. I would welcome his comments on that.

Will the Minister ensure that in the discussions that he and colleagues have with local authorities, the availability of transport is considered? We are not talking about a token provision of resources that will allow some people to access transport. In some rural areas, the existing network of buses will just not get people there in time. That needs to be addressed.

Barbara Keeley and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole raised the issue of young carers and young people in care who need extra support. It would help if strong guidelines were set up for these funds to ensure that such groups are protected and given every support that they need to access education. Those people need it the most. Action for Children raised that problem and suggested those guidelines in its briefing.

If there is to be a discretionary element, with college and school principals being able to consider how resources should be used locally to achieve access, we should ensure that there are clear guidelines about equality of access. For example, if two students apply to a college, one of whom looks likely on the basis of past performance to achieve grades that mean it will be good for the college to have them on board, and one of whom will need extra support to achieve such grades, the college should consider their home situation, where they live and so on rather than just their academic attainment. We need such safeguards in place.