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Education Maintenance Allowance

Part of Opposition Day — [9th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:52 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 4:52 pm, 19th January 2011

The decision to abolish EMA is an act of educational and social vandalism. It has caused huge distress and anger among young people, who do not see, as I do not see and the Opposition do not see, why they should carry a disproportionate burden of the deficit reduction strategy.

We have heard from some speakers about early intervention, particularly in respect of young people. We all believe in the importance of making further progress on early intervention in the early years to pay off in 16 years' time. To abolish EMA is to do away with an early intervention that will pay off in two years, because EMA is a means of preventing young people from leaving school and failing to obtain the qualifications that will enable them to get jobs and go on into higher education. That will cost money. We know it will cost money, and we know from the IFS that there is research to confirm that measures that leave more young people unemployed and without qualifications will cost us in the short term-this year, next year and the year after. There is no economic case for the abolition of the education maintenance allowance.

Has EMA worked? We hear from Ministers so often, "Let's devolve the responsibility to heads. Let's hear what is being said at a local level." Listen to my heads and to the principals of my further education colleges. They are saying, "Don't do this." Jo Shuter, the principal of Quintin Kynaston school, is an award-winning head teacher who has transformed a school that was extremely challenging a few years ago. She said to me that at a school where 84% of young people are on the education maintenance allowance in the sixth form, abolishing it will be extraordinarily damaging and will wreak havoc on her sixth form. She is not alone in saying that.

The City of Westminster college, which I mentioned earlier, quoted the figure of 250 students this year, every year, who are obtaining qualifications, who were not staying on in school and obtaining qualifications without EMA. Those 250 pupils alone justify the expenditure on EMA. But EMA is not just about staying on into the sixth form, as we heard from many other speakers; it is about giving head teachers a tool to manage attendance and progress at school, and it is much valued for that. It is also about reducing the need for part-time employment. I agree with Mr Jones that part-time work can be a valuable thing. I did it; many of us did it. I also know that in the school that my child attends, which took over from a failing secondary school where just 18% of pupils were obtaining 5 A to C GCSEs, that figure has now increased to 63%. The school did that with Saturday schools and sessions in the school holidays. It is a similar picture at Paddington academy and Westminster academy-some of the most deprived schools in the country.

If we encourage pupils to lose their focus on their studies-another point emphasised by the principal of Quintin Kynaston-they will not work. It is all very well in the high-achieving schools, all very well for the pupils who do not need to be worrying about transforming their educational results, but it is not satisfactory in those schools that are on a journey, and which we know most need the improvements. We have heard from other speakers about how this impacts most severely on large families, on black and minority ethnic families, and on lone-parent families. The removal of EMA is not fair and it is not proportionate in its impact.

I want to spend my last couple of minutes on a particular concern. The reduction of funding for a more targeted programme poses a real question about what we seek to achieve. Are we looking for that money to maintain the staying on at school rates in those groups of people who currently do not, or are we looking to provide additional financial assistance for those pupils who are most challenged? Two into one will not go. There are schools in my constituency where 80%-plus of pupils are on EMA. At City of Westminster college, 75% are on EMA.

Last week, the principal of Westminster academy, which has been so transformed in recent years, told me that 60% of students who have been through the school-almost two thirds-have had multi-agency involvement from the mental health trust and the social services because they are children in need and at risk. That figure is extraordinary. How are we targeting resources to that school, and how will we leave that responsibility without imposing a cost and a burden on the head teachers and principals who will be deciding between all those competing claims-the students who are under financial pressure and that overwhelming number of school students who have challenging circumstances, such as mental health problems, children who are themselves homeless, children in families who are homeless, and children from families where the parents are in prison or have drug or alcohol or mental health problems? An invidious pressure is being put on those schools. It will increase costs and increase the burden, and without doubt it will result in fewer children obtaining educational qualifications, fewer children staying on and great hardship for the families who most need help.