STRAIGHT TALK: The poor being hit yet again

Tessa Mouat
Tessa Mouat

It seems the poor are to be hit again this September with the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) being scrapped in favour of the 16-19 bursary.

This puts a huge question mark over our supposed ‘equal access’ to further education, with those who are not in need of financial support being able to freely go onto further education while their classmates who needed the EMA will face narrower horizons.

The new bursary only guarantees those who are in the worst off situations (such as those in or who have left care, those on income support and the disabled) £1,200 a year, which does not support all of those who need financial help in order to attend school.

Even if those students previously eligible for EMA are to continue into further education, schools and colleges will no doubt find that the reduction in general admissions is only part of the problem.

Attendance among those students will be more likely to fall because previously EMA was only available to those who came in every day.

This obviously offers up the counter argument that some students only come in for the money and are little bothered about their education.

While I know a tiny number of my contemporaries may have had this attitude as they entered the sixth form, by the end of the first year they are starting to realise their potential and the vast array of opportunities that await them afterwards.

It no longer becomes about the money but is instead aided by the money.

Now the money has been taken away they are more likely to be absent during term time, having to work in part time jobs in order to fund their education.

A problem with the bursary that is replacing the EMA is that schools are given a lump sum and told to hand out the money as they see fit.

This offers up obvious problems, one being that different schools will offer students various amounts of money, and students may be skewed in their decision making process, possibly opting to go to the school that offers them more money rather than the one that offers them the best education.

Students not automatically eligible for the bursary will have to apply to their individual schools for specific amounts such as money for a bus pass, text books or equipment and so will not be receiving regular financial support.

And once the money is gone there is no guarantee of more, and so any further requirements have no guarantee of being fulfilled.

The bursary money gives mention to those “facing genuine financial difficulties” which leaves some interpretation left for the schools to decide what is ‘genuine’.

Is need of shoes for school ‘genuine’? What about those who cannot afford to pay out to go on school trips, are their claims ‘genuine’? And if so whose claim is more ‘genuine’?

It places extra pressure on schools to allocate the resources efficiently, whilst they also will have to do more to encourage teens to carry on into further education and more importantly into their respective establishments.

With current government plans to make education or training compulsory up to the age of 18 by 2015, it seems that this system is crucially flawed.