16-19 Participation in education

Written Evidence Submitted by BSix, Brooke House Sixth Form College

Executive summary

1. Students, teachers, support staff, parents, governors, managers and the principal of BSix, Brooke House Sixth Form College are united in their opposition to the abolition of Educational Maintenance Allowance. They have serious concerns about the impact its abolition will have on the college’s ability to continue to raise educational achievement and student aspiration in a socially deprived area. This statement, through the voices of students and staff, summarises these concerns and argues that the abolition of EMA will seriously impede the work of the college. It argues that the abolition of EMA will make it more difficult for students to succeed academically and outlines the positive impact the allowance has had on students, their families, the local area and society in general.

1.1 We submit that the abolition of EMA will: 1) decrease significantly the household income of poor families; 2) have negative impact on student achievement; 3) cause teachers to find it more difficult to ensure students attend and are punctual; 4) have a negative impact on student retention; 5) discourage students from enrolling. We also submit that: 6) students primarily spend the allowance on food, travel, books and other items necessary for studying; 7) students will be unable to find paid work as an alternative to EMA; 8) the number of young people not in education, employment or training in Hackney will increase with consequent social problems and increased benefit expenditure; 9) the proposed replacement will be costly, bureaucratic and difficult to administer fairly.

1.2 We ask the Inquiry to recommend that EMA be retained in its current form and the money for the scheme increased to ensure more students receive the grant.


2. Background information

BSix was set up in 2002 to raise the aspirations and achievements of young people in the East End of London. It is comprehensive in that it offers courses from entry through to advanced, educating young people who have no prior qualifications as well as those aspiring to study at Oxbridge. It also offers a wide range of courses and subjects including Business, Health and Social Care, Public Services, ESOL, Hair and Beauty as well as a wide range of A Levels. The college is located in Hackney, one of the most deprived boroughs in the country. About half the students come from Hackney and the rest from all over London. The student body is extremely diverse. The two biggest groups are young people of African heritage (33%) and African Caribbean heritage (16%). The gender balance is 56% female and 44% male. The majority come from families with no history of higher education. 72% of students are in receipt of EMA payments and 97% of students engender disadvantage uplift in funding, the second highest in the sixth form sector. The aim of the college is to break the link between social deprivation and underachievement. The basic premise is that everyone is educable. The college has been in the top 10 of the 46 London colleges in the post-16 performance tables, being outperformed only by selective institutions , and its value added performance regularly places it in the top 5% of all schools and colleges in the country. In 2009 it had the best contextual value added in the whole state school and college sector. Together students, teachers and support staff from BSix have campaigned to oppose the abolition of EMA and raise awareness of the importance of the scheme. The contributions in this submission are from the principal, teachers, managers, governors and parents but the most powerful voices in defence of EMA are those of the students who receive the allowance.

3. Importance of EMA to low income family budgets.

Many students report that EMA is an essential part of the broader family budget. The abolition of EMA must be understood in the context of cuts to other benefits and services and its abolition will result in a significant reduction in household incomes for families in poverty. In some instances EMA is used for paying bills, supporting siblings and for funding carer duties. Families are also more likely to encourage students to attend college if the students are able to support themselves financially. The abolition of EMA will place a significant financial burden on low income families.

3.1 ‘With the new cuts that have happened money in my household is very tight. It is a big benefit when I can help out as much as possible. By losing my EMA I would not be able to come to do this which would place a really big burden on my mother. EMA has also proved useful in terms of basic needs with regards to my family. If my mother needs assistance with the things such as electricity from time to time or getting something for my younger siblings, she is able to rely on me and this makes life so much easier, so even though EMA may seem like such a small amount it really does make a difference. I find it bizarre that MPs seem to think EMA is just pocket money to people like me. It makes a huge difference to my household. It’s not just me relying on it, but my family as well, especially as the payment of around £50 we used to receive every two weeks for my autistic brother has been cut completely, and now the buses that take him to and from his special school are under threat." Vivien Kintu , s tudent

3.2 ‘My family’s weekly income is roughly £80 a week so EMA to me and my family makes a big difference, it’s almost a third of our weekly income. It means me not asking my mum for money that she doesn’t have, it means me being able to make a contribution and help her out. I know of many people who share their EMA out between their families, this isn’t rare. We’re going through a recession where educated, experienced adults can’t get a job, so the chances of me finding one are scarce’. Clea Cal, student

3.3 ‘The government don’t realise that EMA is essential support for families. What about the families, the Mums and Dads, the lone parents who rely on the fact their sons and daughters get EMA? The result will be a lost generation.’ Daze Osuide, student

3.4 ‘I am worried about the economic consequences of scrapping EMA. Over 70% of students at the college receive the allowance. Its loss will prove a huge problem for many families. The threat is massive and it will be a significant blow to household income. If you have one son or daughter on EMA, that's £120 a month, if you've got two, then it's £240 a month.’ Ken Warman, Principal

3.5 "Even if the EMA had no impact on educational outcomes, it would still represent a transfer of resources to low-income households with children, which may in its own right represent a valuable policy objective." Institute For Fiscal Studies report [1]

4. The abolition of EMA will increase the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET)

The number of 16 to 24 year olds NEETs has reached a record high. Department of Education statistics report there are 938,000 not in work, education or training. [2] The abolition of EMA will increase this number. In Hackney NEET rates for 16 to 18 year olds are 70% above the national average. [3] Students and teachers report that the abolition of EMA will have a negative impact on student retention and discourage students from enrolling in the first instance. A survey commissioned jointly by the Association of Colleges and the University and Colleges Union reports that 70% of students would drop out if EMA was withdrawn and 38% of those who get the college grant would not have started their course without it. [4] One in five 16 to 24 year olds - 965,000 are unemployed. [5] The thinktank Demos warns that youth unemployment is likely to grow to 1.2 million over the next five years. [6] Students are finding it increasing difficult to find work to support their studies.

4.1 ‘I fear the abolition will result in many students simply not enrolling in the first place – or dropping out as they find they cannot afford to study. This presumably will swell the number of NEETS nationally with all the problems associated with that cohort’. Dave Hampton, Head of English and Humanities

4.2 ‘I am born and bred in Hackney, I get £10 from EMA. My friends who were on EMA simply were motivated to come into college due to the financial support they were given. Now as EMA has gone they are looking for alternative ways to gain financial support; however there are no jobs so unfortunately this is leading to crime. So I ask you if we are spending billions waging war in other countries why can’t we spend that money in this country? Please take the opinion of the working class into consideration as we are the majority in society’.   Zakariya Ahmed, Student

4.3 ‘EMA has encouraged many students to go to college; if that option was not there many young people will have no other choice but to head for a dead-end career, committing crimes or joining gangs. They will have no legitimate means left available to them. And are these really the opportunities you want to leave for our generation? I know this sounds harsh but it’s true, there are no other options for the working classes.’ Clea Cal, Student

4.4 ‘When looking for jobs I'm competing against people in their thirties, it's doesn't seem fair. It feels as if my generation has always been the guinea pigs of new government initiatives. I don't believe that ministers have to scrap the EMA. They could find the money’. Vivien Kintu, student

4.5 ‘There will definitely be less students going to college if they abolish EMA. How are we going to afford to come to college? A lot of people rely on it. It is hard to get jobs; I have been trying for ages - it is not easy’. Yildiz Esmer, Student

5. Improvement in punctuality and attendance

Students only receive their EMA if they are on time, attend every lesson and produce an adequate amount of work. Teachers report that punctuality and attendance and work levels have improved since the introduction of EMA. The consequence of the improvement i n attendance and punctuality is an increased amount of time students spend in the classroom and this has contributed significantly to improved education al attainment .

5.1 The introduction of EMA had an immediate impact. It worked right away as an incentive to stay on. The money worked as a good street-cred reason to study particularly among boys most likely to drop out. I remember when they first piloted it here in Hackney - students were rushing in to make sure they got in on time an d attendance improved massively. Most are now 100%. Parents turn them out of bed to make sure they don't lose the money. Louis Lovell, teacher

5.2 ‘EMA is only available to those who have 100% attendance and punctuality records for a given week. The limited evidence we have available shows the major positive effect that EMA has had on attendance and punctuality, and this is very much supported by my experience. I think the broader positive effects in terms of contributing to a culture where learning is an appealing option for students at risk of disengagement will be difficult to quantify, but nevertheless considerable. I feel, with our students, that EMA is a deserved support, financial and symbolic, for them "doing the right thing" when there are significant forces encouraging them to do otherwise; and a significant way of promoting greater equality of opportunity when this is a goal seemingly universally desired but increasingly elusive’. Rick Brown, teacher

5.3 ‘EMA is also not easy to obtain, for me to get my EMA I must have 100% attendance and punctuality, being 5 minutes late to one of my 17 lessons I have a week, means no money. This shows I have to be an active and focused student for me to even get my EMA.’ Clea Cal, student

6. Usage of EMA

It has been frequently reported in the media that students spend their EMA on non essentials and items unrelated to education. [7] These accusations are based on unsubstantiated assertions by those with no experience of sixth form or further education and are an attempt to discredit and undermine the scheme. The receipt of the allowance is not dependent on students spending the money on any prescribed items. Our experience at BSix is that students spend the money to support their education on travel, lunch, books pens, notepads etc. In addition our students are required to pay for their exam re-sits which cost £18 per unit. Students re-sit multiple units.

6.1 ‘To be honest with you EMA will not affect my travel to college, however it will affect the extra curriculum activities I do. I am part of the Hackney Volunteer Police Cadets and a Project called Bikes2Gambia, and with this project I have to go all across London on the tubes, with the EMA I was able to pay up for my travel, however now I am struggling.’ Zakariyah Ahmed, student

6.2 ‘EMA is a source of income for students that need it most – without it people will struggle. Over 70 per cent of students here at B6 get EMA. It ensures teenagers have the fundamental things, such as school books and lunch money. Many use it for transport. It creates a fairer economic environment and brings up those less well off in society Nkiruka Ochei, Student

6.3 ‘It goes on everything for the whole week – your lunch, travel, living costs it supports us to get by’. Yildiz Esmer, student

6.4 ‘EMA also enables me and other students to eat a good lunch, as for some family’s lunch money isn’t always there. And also food is not cheap, especially good healthy food, and me going to my lessons having eaten a good lunch means I can concentrate, stay focused and work harder. Furthermore I have read articles from politicians arguing they have spoken to students who have said they’ve brought £100 trainers with EMA, if anyone wants to look at my shoes they are £4 and from Primark. They’ve also said the amount of money we claim to spend on transport must be spent on taxis, and their solution to this problem is removing my EMA, raising oyster card prices and the removal of free bus travel for students.’

Clea Cal, student

6.5 So many of our students depend on the EMA for essentials such as travel costs to get to College – in London, especially, transport is very expensive. I have had many students inform me that they missed three days of college in succession simply because they had no money for transport. Many students live alone and have no family in this country and are dependent on every penny of EMA even for basics such as food in some cases’. Dave Hampton, Head of Humanities

7. Student involvement in the campaign to defend EMA. We request that the education committee note that our students are the first in a generation to become actively engaged with the political process. This is a direct consequence of the government’s decision to abolish EMA. We ask the committee to consider why students have been so actively involved in the campaign to defend EMA. Below are some examples of their participation in the democratic process.

· 19/12/10 BSix Students organised a rally and demonstration at lunchtime. A delegation of students and teachers marched to Hackney Town Hall where they presented Jules Pipe, the Mayor of Hackney, with a joint letter from staff and students and a petition opposing the abolition of EMA.

· 19/01/11 Students participated in a ‘teach-in’ in parliament to coincide with the parliamentary vote on EMA. The ‘teach-in’ was attended by a number of MPs. Students then attended and spoke at a lobby organised jointly by the NUS/UCU/NUT.

· 26/01/11 Students addressed a full meeting of Hackney Council. They spoke in support of a motion to oppose the abolition of EMA.

· 14/02/11 Students participated in a debate with MPs and Lords about education in parliament organised by ‘Bite the Ballot’.

· Students have made frequent appearances in the media including on BBC News, Newsnight, Radio 4, Radio Five Live, Sky News, Press TV. They also appear in a documentary on the campaign made by VBS TV.

7.1 ‘I have been involved with the campaign to save EMA. We had a rally at our college organised by the students and the NUT and UNISON. We have been trying to publicise the issues around EMA letting people know the student side of the argument’ Daze Osuide, student

7.2 ‘We went on the protests to save EMA and oppose the fees - a lot of people are upset about what is happening.’ Yildiz Esmer, student

7.3 ‘One way of assessing the impact of the EMA on student life and learning is to consider the energy, commitment and time students have given to defending it. Both events I attended increased the inclusion, sense of community and active participation of our students in the classroom and the wider democratic process. Our students’ commitment to defending the allowance demonstrates unequivocally the importance it has had on their participation, achievement and overall welfare.’ Lucy Capes, Trainee Teacher

8. Problems with the proposed replacement – the Learner Support Fund

The government proposes to replace EMA with a Learner Support Fund which will be distributed to students at the discretion of the college. Funding for EMA currently stands at £500million.The proposed fund for the replacement has been reported as being between £50 and £150 million. This significant reduction will result in many students not receiving the financial support they have had previously. With no central guidelines for the allocation of the money competing colleges may use the money to attract students with financial incentives instead of distributing it according to need. The decision about how to allocate the funds will be time consuming, costly and inefficient and may leave the college open to appeals.

8.1 The decision to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance was taken before any interim or replacement arrangement had been put in place. The proposed enhanced Learner Support Fund is a serious cause for concern not only because it will be a radically reduced budget but also because the distribution of such a fund is fraught with difficulties. First, it is clear that there will be "guidelines", not rules, uso there will be inconsistencies between colleges (and a temptation to use the fund as a  marketing and recruitment tool).Second , the argument for devolved distribution is that we know our local circumstances. This is an unhelpful justification. For example, 50% of our students come from outside the borough of Hackney, many travelling considerable distances in search of the right course and a sixth form college experience. We could well decide to fund travel for students in low income households .If we don’t, then the implication is that only the relatively well-off can gain access to a free market in education (travelling to the best college for you rather than the most convenient). However, if the fund is drained by the 50% from out of borough, what about the many of our students who live in Hackney and are in low-income households? Third, these difficult decisions will probably lead to appeals, tying up time and resources, and complaints of inconsistency. Fourth, as these decisions will be made in-house, it will inevitably increase (local) bureaucracy and our administrative costs. The EMA had the advantage of being a national scheme with clear rules and the distribution of funds direct to a student’s bank account. Once you consider the practical implications of a devolved Learner Support Fund, you realise the fallacy of the "dead weight" argument that only 10% of young people stayed on at 16 because of the EMA. The crucial question is: how do you identify the 10%? Do we give priority funding to those who can persuade us that they will drop out if they do not receive financial support? Ken Warman, Principal

9. Conclusion

The aim of our college is to raise the educational achievement of young people in Hackney. We have been succeeding in doing this since 2002 and it is our view that EMA has been an essential part of this process. The allowance offers material support, an incentive to participate in education, ensures students do not have to undertake excessive part-time work. It supports families on low incomes, it encourages students to enrol and then stay in college. It improves results. It sends a clear signal to often disillusioned and marginalised young people that they are valued by society and that education is important. It has a broader positive impact on society by keeping young people in education and providing support to low income families. According to the IFS cost analysis it more than pays for itself. We urge the Education Committee to recommend that EMA be retained in its current form and expanded to ensure more students receive the allowance.

‘It’s as if they are removing all chances of me passing or even being able to go to college. This is supposed to be a meritocratic society, yet I’m not even given the opportunity to work my way to the top. Shouldn’t education be a key to better and civilized society? They are clearly removing any prospect for me and many others to pursue a successful career. We’re almost born into failure and should my fate and the fate of many others just be based on what class we’re born into?’ Clea Cal, student

25th March 2011


[1] Education Maintenance Allowance: Evaluation with Administrative Data - The impact of the EMA pilots on participation and attainment in post-compulsory education , Chowdry, Dearden, Emmerson, Inst itute for Fiscal Studies- Nov 2007 quoted at http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/12/the-real-nature-of-the-educational-maintenance-allowance-debate/

[2] Department for Education Re port cited in Guardian, NEETs hit new high as youth unemployment keeps rising, 25 th February 2011

[3] http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/default.asp?pageRef=242

[4] The survey was conducted by UCU with the assistance of the Association of Colleges (AoC). Over 700 students who received EMA were polled at the 30 colleges and sixth-forms with the highest proportion of students receiving the EMA.

[5] Office for National Statistics http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=12


[6] Report currently unpublished cited in Guardian 25 th February 2011


[7] One example is Andrew Gilligan, http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/andrewgilligan/100068929/ema-time-to-stop-whingeing-kids