From education to employment

Figures for 2004 – 2005 EMA Allocations in Scotland Indicate Effective Retention

The figures for those students benefiting from the new Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA) in Scotland have revealed the system’s success in retaining students in education.

The statistics cover the full academic year and replace previous partial studies. The EMA system has received some criticism from various quarters, as people argue that it is wrong to “pay people to study”. The argument against the EMA also encompassed arguments that this extra funding could be better used in equalising pay across the sector and investing in frontline provision.

EMAs were introduced throughout Scotland from August 2004 and were designed to cover 16 year olds (specifically, those whose birthdays fell between 1st March 1988 and 30th September 1988). People born between 1 October 1988 and 28 February 1989 became eligible to join the programme in January 2005. The programme will be expanded in the course of the coming two years to cover 17 and 18 year olds.

The EMA and the Figures

The EMAs are payments of £10, £20 or £30 per week which are dependant on means testing. They are payments made to young people attending either a school or further education college on a full time basis. Following satisfactory attendance and the successful completion of the agreed course, additional bonus payments of £150 are payable in January and June in an attempt to encourage young people not only to stay in education but also to achieve.

One of the main points was the notable fact that some 79% of EMA recipients (who number 23,650 in Scotland for 2004 ““ 2005, with 54% of the 16 year olds being female) received the maximum weekly payment of £30. The proportion of FE college students receiving £30 per week is higher than that in school (83% as opposed to 77%). The distribution of payments saw some £15.1 million being paid in weekly payments, with a further £4.1 million as bonuses kicked in.

The EMA is means tested, as has been stated before, and this is shown in the fact that 24% of all students in the £30 category come from the 15 % of most deprived areas in Scotland. The success of the EMA seems clearly indicated in the revelation that 62% of the students who attended for the full year received both the first and second bonuses, and an impressive 88% of the 16,290 students who received EMA between August and December 2004 stayed on in education into the second half of the year.

EMA The Road Ahead?

This statistical breakdown is obviously a limited picture. For instance, it would be more revealing to interview a selection of the students whom this study reports upon and find out how much of a difference the EMA made to their decision to study and / or remain in study. In the same vein, it would be revealing to compare the figures for the preceding years in the same districts to ascertain just how great a difference the EMA has made.

However, it is churlish to refute the benefits that seem to be drawn from the EMA. If this system does aid the retention of students, then surely it should be supported and praised. The question of whether the funding should go elsewhere ignores the good work being accomplished through the EMA, and it could be suggested that a scheme similar to the EMA could be rolled out by the Government in the coming years to offset the increasing costs for adults in learning. Whatever one’s personal political belief, the days of provision of public services for all for free are over; perhaps the EMA is simply the rare flip side of the coin, where paying for a service becomes being paid!

Jethro Marsh

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