Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training - Education Contents

3  Financial support for 16-18 year olds

The need for financial support

76. While the cost of course provision for young people in maintained schools and in colleges is covered centrally, the costs of travel to and from the place of learning, of overnight residential accommodation and of food, essential clothing and equipment, are not. It has been recognised by this Government and its predecessors that some 16 to 18 year olds will either be unable to afford to study or will suffer significant hardship unless financial support is provided to cover these expenses.

77. Whereas financial concerns are known to be a constraint on learning for 16 to 18 year olds, some evidence suggests that they only form an absolute barrier for a relatively small group. Recent work by the National Foundation for Educational Research into barriers to participation in education and training found that, whereas around a quarter of those sampled[121] viewed finance as a constraint when deciding what to do after Year 11, only four per cent said that it had actually stopped them from doing what they wanted. However, that low overall figure masked more substantial disincentives for certain subsets, for instance:

  • 29% of young people not in education, employment or training said that they would have engaged in education after Year 11 if they had received more money to cover the cost of transport;
  • 27% of young people not in education, employment or training said that they would have engaged in education after Year 11 if they had received more money to cover the cost of books and equipment; and
  • 39% of young people in jobs without training said that they would have engaged in education or training after Year 11 if they had received more money to cover the cost of transport (33% of this group said the same in relation to the cost of books and equipment).

18% of young people overall reported that they would have done a different course or training if they had received more money to cover the cost of transport, books, equipment or food.[122]

78. Various forms of financial support are available to 16 to 18 year olds in education or training:
Income Support

In general, a young person may qualify for Income Support if they have a low income and savings below £16,000 and are not working for more than 16 hours per week. Young people in full-time study will not normally qualify, although there are exceptions for lone parents, people who do not live with a parent or someone acting as a parent, or who are at serious risk of abuse or violence, and refugees learning English. The weekly rate for 16 and 17 year olds is currently £53.45.

Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)

Introduced initially as a pilot, in 1999, before being offered nationally from the start of the 2004-05 academic year. EMA was payable to 16, 17 or 18 year olds who had left compulsory education and were in full-time education: from April 2006, payments were extended to cover participants in Entry to Employment programmes and Programme Led Apprenticeships. Bonuses were payable for full attendance and successful completion of the planned programme.

EMA was paid at three rates for different levels of household income:

  • Less than £20,817: £30 per week
  • £20,818 to £25,521: £20 per week
  • £25,522 to £30,810: £10 per week
  • Above £30,810: no payment

Part-time job earnings were not included in calculation of household income.

32% of all 16-18 year olds in England, and 47% of those in full-time education, received the EMA in 2009-10.[123] EMA is now not available to new applicants.

Discretionary Learner Support

Funded by the Department for Education but administered by schools, colleges and providers: £26.8 million was available to alleviate individual cases of hardship among 16-18 year olds in the 2009/10 academic year.[124] The current discretionary scheme supports approximately 200,000 young people each year.[125]

Care to Learn

Care to Learn helps young parents continue in, or return to, education or training, by providing financial help with childcare costs and travel. A maximum of £160 per child per week is payable (£175 in London).

Free school meals

Available to pupils in a school sixth form but not to pupils studying in further education or sixth form colleges.

This Report concentrates upon financial support provided through the Education Maintenance Allowance, and its intended replacement, and through free school meals.

The decision to end the Education Maintenance Allowance

79. The Spending Review in October 2010 announced that support provided by the Education Maintenance Allowance would in future be focused on the most disadvantaged children, thereby saving £0.5 billion. The Government indicated that discretionary learner support funding would be the channel through which student support would be paid in future. In December, Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State at the Department for Education, said in reply to an adjournment debate:

    Final decisions about the quantum of that extra funding still have to be taken, but we have already spoken of increasing the value of that fund by up to three times its current value, which stands at £25.4 million.[126]

80. The sudden decision to bring an end to the Education Maintenance Allowance was controversial, and a vigorous campaign for retention of the Allowance followed. The vast majority of submissions to our inquiry commented on the Government's decision, and almost all were opposed. Large numbers of young people and their parents contacted the Committee directly, giving reasons why they believed that it was essential to retain the EMA. We were told that the Allowance was used by students to meet the cost of travel, computers and internet access, food, and necessary equipment and protective clothing (in some cases several hundreds of pounds).[127]

81. We were also told that:

  • The EMA was a necessity for some, not a luxury.[128] For example, one student "was constantly on the edge; if her EMA was late she couldn't afford her fare";[129]
  • The EMA provided an incentive to attend college on time and to focus on studying. The loss of EMA could result in behavioural issues for those who lose that focus;
  • The EMA had enabled students to attend their first choice of provision, rather than the closest;[130]
  • The EMA was part of the household income, used to help with the cost of household bills;
  • The EMA had improved students' retention and attendance (this is covered in more detail below, in paragraphs 94 to 99);
  • The EMA enabled low income families to see further education as an option for them, and the lack of guaranteed funding as a 'safety net' would deter some young people from applying for courses;
  • The EMA released young people from dependence on their parents, who might not otherwise have provided the financial support necessary (particularly where more than one child was in post-compulsory study);[131]
  • A large proportion of students with learning difficulties came from low income households and would be disproportionately affected by withdrawal of the EMA;
  • Young carers, who are less likely to enter further education because of their caring responsibilities, would be adversely affected;[132]
  • Young refugees and migrants, who experienced high levels of poverty and need, faced particular barriers to education: EMA had been "a vital resource" to young Roma;[133]
  • The loss of the EMA would mean that less well off students might need to take part time jobs, which would reduce their study time and put them at a disadvantage to better off students. Students from Brooke House Sixth Form College in Hackney reported difficulties in finding part-time employment;[134]
  • The EMA allowed young people to set and manage their own budget, developing their financial skills;[135] and
  • The EMA provided a means for some young people to participate in extracurricular activities that would enhance their university application.

A summary of points made directly to the Committee by young people and parents in favour of retaining the EMA is printed with this report, as Annex 2.

82. Peterborough City Council's 8-19 Service listed many negative impacts of the loss of the EMA. However, it said that "one positive aspect of the removal of EMA" was that "we are no longer artificially trying to construct provision that meets EMA criteria. Our most vulnerable learners often require flexible, short or small programmes to entice them in to learning. Only after their confidence grows will they commit to 12 hours a week or a programme spread over a number of weeks. EMA was often a barrier to being truly flexible to meet learner needs, as we had to try to get young people to attend larger programmes that did not meet their needs".[136]

83. Some colleges have opted to provide their students with an entitlement in place of the EMA. Middlesbrough College has set aside to help students pay for free bus travel, subsidised rail transport, cash rewards for good attendance, subsidised or free meals, and subsidised stationery. Redbridge College, in London, has allocated £265,000 of its funds to provide support to those who would have received the EMA.[137]

The bursary scheme

84. In response to representations and to public pressure, the Government came forward with a revised proposal in March this year, for a bursary scheme. The main features are that:

  • £180 million would be available for bursaries allocated by schools, colleges and providers of work-based training;[138]
  • The Department would expect students in care, care leavers, and those on Income Support to receive an annual bursary of at least £1,200 if they stayed on in education. The Secretary of State indicated that about 12,000 young people would fall into these categories;[139]
  • Receipt of a bursary should be conditional on the recipient meeting standards of behaviour and attendance set by their school/college/training provider;
  • There would be local discretion on eligibility, the method of payment (such as instalments or lump sum), and policy on payment in cash or in kind; and
  • Allocation of the fund to schools, colleges and training providers would be based initially upon the proportion of young people presently receiving the maximum (£30) weekly rate of EMA, rather than according to eligibility for free school meals or deprivation measures. The distribution methodology would be reviewed in future.

85. A separate pot of £194 million in 2011-12 has been set aside to cover what the Government describes as transitional funding, in the form of weekly payments for students part way through courses and currently receiving the EMA. Students who began courses in 2009-10 would have their EMA payments protected until the end of the 2011-12 academic year. Those who started courses in 2010-11 and received the maximum weekly payment of £30 would receive weekly payments of £20 until the end of the 2011-12 academic year; this was expected to cost £113 million. Those who started in 2010-11 and who received lower weekly EMA payments would no longer receive anything weekly. However, all young people continuing to receive weekly payments would also be eligible for bursaries.[140]

86. A consultation on both the bursary scheme and the transitional arrangements for existing claimants started immediately; the closing date was 20 May. The Government has chosen to adopt the basic principles of the bursary scheme and transitional support in the form outlined in the consultation paper, and allocations to individual schools, colleges and other providers were made on 17 June.

87. The Government was right to recognise, even if belatedly, that the initial proposals for replacing the Education Maintenance Allowance fell short of what was required. We welcome the Government's decision to provide transitional funding for some learners who had begun courses in the expectation that they would continue to receive Education Maintenance Allowance.

88. We also welcome the Government's decision to consult on its proposals for a bursary scheme. However, the consequence of holding an eight-week consultation at this stage, starting at the very end of March, was that allocations to providers were made only in June this year, less than three months before courses were due to start. Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, told us that

    The last safe moment to have introduced these changes was about November last year, when students were coming to college to think about what their future might be and what they might do at 16—when they were approaching that point of decision. We had no information to give them. I made that point very clearly to the Secretary of State at the time.[141]

When we put this to Lord Hill, the DfE Minister responsible for school funding, he agreed that it would have been good to have put forward the replacement bursary scheme more quickly, and he accepted criticism of the delay.[142]

89. Allocations of funding for student support through the bursary scheme for 2011-12 have been made far too late to allow Year 11 students to make fully informed decisions on what they will do the following year. The Government misjudged the scale of support necessary when announcing the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, and precious months were lost while it revised its plans and consulted on the bursary proposals. The delay in deciding on allocations and guiding principles for distribution was regrettable and should not have been allowed to happen.

Should the EMA have been abolished?

90. The original rationale of the EMA was set out by the Rt Hon. Baroness Blackstone in January 1999. The press notice accompanying her announcement reported her as saying that:

    Many young people who leave education at 16 are not only the least qualified, and the least likely to return to education later in life; they deny themselves the opportunities open to their better-educated peers, and deny society the benefit of their skills and participation in community life. Currently, the number of 16-18 year olds in education or training from lower-income families is 20% lower than for young people from better-off households. The [EMA] pilots will test how an allowance encourages these young people to stay on and achieve in education. If the pilots are a success, as we think they will be, then we will consider the introduction of EMAs nationally.[143]

91. The previous Government's Green Paper on raising the participation age, published in March 2007, addressed financial support for learners. It made the following statement:

    We think that EMA should continue until compulsory participation is introduced in 2013. After that, we propose that financial support will need to be restructured. In doing so, we would build on the reforms from the Government's review of financial support for young people, and the views we gathered in the public consultation on supporting young people to achieve. EMA is designed to be an incentive to encourage young people from less well off households to participate in education or training; this support also helps young people to meet some of the costs of post 16 learning, such as transport, books and specialist equipment. There would no longer be the same role for an incentive payment if participation was made compulsory. But it would still be vital, of course, to make sure that financial circumstances are not a barrier to participation, so we would still expect to provide financial support to the most disadvantaged young people.[144]

92. When the current Government announced its intention to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance, it gave reasons:

  • The scheme was becoming financially unaffordable, given the economic circumstances;
  • Research had shown that a large proportion of recipients would have participated in education or training even without the EMA; and
  • The EMA had been designed as an incentive at a time when participation post-16 was optional: that logic would no longer apply once participation became compulsory.

93. In 2010-11, budgeted expenditure on the Education Maintenance Allowance was £564 million, approximately 1% of the Departmental Expenditure Limit.[145] Outturn expenditure on the Allowance between 2006-07 and 2009-10 ranged from £503 million in 2006-07 to £580 million in 2009-10.[146] The numbers receiving EMA have continued to climb since the scheme was extended nationally: 527,000 recipients in 2006-07, 546,000 in 2007-08, 576,000 in 2008-09 and 643,000 in 2009-10 (equating to 32% of all 16-18 year olds in England, or 47% of 16-18 year olds in full-time education).[147]

The impact of the EMA on participation, retention and attainment

94. The Government, in defending its decision to abolish the Allowance, relied heavily on the argument that "90%" of recipients would have chosen to study with or without the benefit of the Allowance, and that the expenditure was therefore largely an economic "deadweight" cost.[148] In doing so, the Government was following a line of argument set out by Sam Freedman and Simon Horner in a paper for Policy Exchange in 2008. Their argument ran:

    The EMA is, in effect, a massive deadweight cost—providing payment to 46% of learners, the vast majority of whom would have been in post-16 education in any case. Once new government legislation to make 16-18 education or training compulsory comes into force in 2013 the entire cost of the EMA will effectively become deadweight. As young people will have to participate anyway, it can have no positive incentive effect.[149]

95. The 90% figure often quoted by the Government may be a 'rounding-up' of the 88% figure derived from the NFER's study of barriers to participation in education and training. The study noted that "only 12% of young people overall receiving an EMA believe that they would not have participated in the courses they are doing if they had not received an EMA".[150] The study went on to note that much higher proportions of young people with learning difficulties and disabilities said that they would not have participated in learning without this support, and it drew the conclusion that there was a case for financial support to be increasingly targeted at those most in need.[151]

96. We asked the lead author of the NFER research study, Dr Thomas Spielhofer, whether the Government had been justified in basing its policy on the 12% figure. He replied that he thought that it had been misinterpreted, in that the 88% would have included some for whom finance would have been at least a constraint if not an absolute barrier, as well as some who were receiving EMA at the £10 per week rate, for whom removal of the EMA would be unlikely to be a "deal-breaker".[152] He also indicated that 12% was, in itself, a significant figure, and he described it as "a worrying statistic".[153] Indeed, it is likely that the 12% includes people who are less motivated (and who may continue to be less motivated once participation is compulsory) and who may need dedicated and expensive support to enter and remain in education and training.

97. Some previous studies of the impact of the EMA on participation have identified rather smaller percentages as saying that they would not have participated without the EMA. An evaluation of the first two pilot years of the EMA by the Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRiSP), in 2002, found a positive effect on participation rates of 5.9% among those eligible for EMA.[154] An evaluation of the national roll-out of the EMA by RCU Research and Consultancy elicited a similar figure6%who said that they would not have continued in learning without the EMA.[155] Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in 2007 found that the EMA increased the proportion of eligible 16-year-olds staying in education from 65% to 69% and the proportion of eligible 17-year-olds from 54% to 61%. Based on these impacts, and on estimates of the financial benefits of additional education taken from elsewhere in the economics literature, the IFS study concluded that the costs of providing EMA were likely to be exceeded in the long run by the higher wages that its recipients would go on to enjoy in future.[156]

98. Less prominence has been given to the effects of EMA on attainment and retention. The CRiSP study of the first two years of EMA, noted above, found evidence that young people eligible for the EMA, despite having achieved lower attainment levels in Year 11 qualifications and showing higher levels of socio-economic deprivation than comparable young people in the control areas, nonetheless attained similar results to the control group in one-year GCSE/GNVQ qualifications, both in terms of numbers of A*-C passes and in their grade-point scores.[157] Regarding impact on retention rates, the RCU Research and Consultancy study of the national roll-out, also described above, found that in-year retention was 2.3 percentage points higher on the learning aims of those receiving EMA.[158] We received other submissions providing evidence of beneficial impacts, not necessarily proving conclusively a causal effect: these cited retention rates which were anything from 5 to 17 percentage points higher for students receiving EMA[159] or even up to 30%,[160] and higher "success" rates (as a recognised measure of college performance, comprising attainment and retention) of up to 11 percentage points.[161]

99. It is difficult to assess the significance of improvements in participation, retention and attainment identified by analyses of the impact of the EMA and to form a view on the cost benefit. Nonetheless, we would have welcomed a more measured and public analysis by the Government before it reached its decision to abolish the EMA. The Government's assertion is that there was a substantial economic "deadweight" cost element to the EMA, meaning that a significant proportion of young people would have taken courses whether or not they received the EMA. However, economic "deadweight" costs are a feature of many interventions and do not necessarily mean that the policy is invalidated. The Government should have done more to acknowledge the combined impact on students' participation, attainment and retention, particularly amongst disadvantaged sub-groups, before determining how to restructure financial support.

Entitlement v discretionary payment

100. Written evidence to our inquiry was submitted at a time when it was expected that the total available for distribution as student support was considerably lower than that which is now on offer; but the principle of the move to discretionary payments remains, and the criticisms continue to be relevant. The move to a bursary scheme involves a shift from an entitlement paid regularly in small amounts, about which there is relative certainty in the longer term, to a discretionary payment in the form of a lump cash sum (or possibly in kind), which is intended to provide support over a shorter period, typically a term.[162] It was put to us that this introduced instability and confusion for young people who were in a precarious financial position.[163] We were also told that by requiring students to apply to the place of learning for a bursary, it forced them to declare their poverty in a way which some would find shaming or stigmatising;[164] and some would prefer not to divulge their circumstances.[165] As an illustration of students' attitudes to different types of support, Lincolnshire 14-19 Strategic Partnership told us of an institution where take-up of free school meals (for which an application had to be made via the local authority) was approximately 2% but take-up of EMA (administered centrally) was 34%.[166]

101. A number of witnesses made it plain that they had reservations about the bursary system. Martin Ward, Deputy General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that "I think we would all prefer an entitlement scheme such as EMA, so that people know in advance what their entitlement is, and they know it will be the same whatever institution they choose to go to. In fact, we would prefer to keep the EMA".[167] Anne-Marie Carrie, the Chief Executive of Barnardo's, stressed that Barnardo's was "utterly in opposition to the discretionary support fund, and to moving that fund to providers ... I consider that unfair. It is inefficient, and it will stigmatise some young people who don't want to say, 'Well, actually, I was in a young offenders institution and I need a bit of extra support because of x, y and z'".[168]

102. There is also the possibility that neighbouring institutions will adopt differing criteria for distribution of discretionary bursaries. Mr Doel said that there are times "when that would be justified, particularly if you are in a rural area and the needs are different", but that at other times, differing practice in bursary payment by institutions within the same travel-to-learn area would be "unhelpful".[169] LEACAN warned that the existence of differing levels of support could lead learners to make decisions "based on financial benefits rather than educational choice".[170] Similar points were made by others.[171]

Administering the bursary fund

103. The bursary fund will not be administered centrally, as the EMA has been: it will be administered by individual schools, colleges and training providers. The Government argues that this is a strength, in that it will enable institutions to respond in ways which best fit the needs of their learners.[172] The Government maintains that the bursary scheme should be proportionately no more difficult or expensive to administer than discretionary learner support payments currently made on a smaller scale by schools and colleges. Schools, colleges and training providers will be able to use up to 5% of their allocation for discretionary student support on administration costs: by comparison, approximately 5% of total expenditure on the EMA is absorbed by administrative costs.[173] In effect, the Government has transferred an administrative burden from the Young People's Learning Agency to schools, colleges and other providers, who may have to meet some of the administration costs from their own core budgets.

104. There could be a considerable impact on administrative staff accustomed to distributing much smaller sums through the existing discretionary learner support funding stream. The likelihood is that there will be more payments by each institution, and that more staff effort will be required. David Wood, Principal and Chief Executive of Lancaster and Morecambe College, said that the 5% permitted for spending on administration costs was a "nominal" amount and that "you can quadruple that",[174] and Martin Ward, representing the Association of School and College Leaders, said that "clearly it will ultimately be more expensive to administer in total".[175] LEACAN questioned the ability of providers to manage the distribution of discretionary funds effectively or equably with limited administrative resources.[176] Martin Doel, the Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, was confident that a college would "have significant managerial capacity to actually take on this scale of change and to apply the scheme", but he was less certain about the capacity of some schools to take on this responsibility, particularly in the first year.[177]

105. There is also a question about whether institutions will be equipped to assess the relative hardship of applicants. The Merseyside Colleges' Association suggested to us that colleges would be unlikely to conduct means testing to inform distribution of funds, because of "resource requirements".[178] However, the Department has said that it "will not set any expectation that awards under the new scheme should formally be means tested" and that it is working with the Association of Colleges and the Sixth Form Colleges Forum to consider how they can identify students who would benefit from support.[179] One nationally consistent source of relevant information would be data on eligibility for free school meals in Year 11; yet the Government has said that it will not require local authorities to provide this information to further education and sixth form colleges.[180] We understand that the Government has indicated to the Association of Colleges that there is no legal impediment to the transfer of information on eligibility for free school meals.[181] This should be more widely known, and we recommend that the Government should issue guidance to schools and local authorities that there is no legal impediment to the transfer of information on Year 11 children's eligibility for free school meals to post-16 providers. We further recommend that the Government consider whether a child's eligibility for free school meals should be recorded on their Common Transfer File.


106. The need to examine every area of public spending is not in dispute, nor is the need to make difficult decisions. We note that the previous Government indicated, even before the recent financial crisis, that financial support for 16-19 year olds would need to be restructured to take account of the raising of the age of compulsory participation, when the Allowance would cease to have the same role as an incentive. We accept that a change to financial support for 16-19 year olds was inevitable.

107. The question is whether the shift from an entitlement to a discretionary system is justified by the savings to be made. This is an issue which is very finely balanced, given that more money is to be spent on student support than had been envisaged in the Spending Review, and the benefits of financial savings therefore now weigh less heavily against the uncertainty and stigma for students which would flow from the discretionary system. We note the view of the Association of Colleges that the cost of administering centrally the £76 million scheme initially proposed would have been uneconomic, and that the decision to raise the value of the sum to be distributed to £180 million still does not bring it to the tipping point at which the cost of central administration of an entitlement becomes justified.[182] It may be that by reducing the eligibility net for an entitlement, for instance by restricting availability to 17 year olds (for whom there is further to go in order to reach full participation), or by simplifying eligibility criteria—for instance by replacing the three graded levels of weekly payment with a single, reduced level—the cost of central administration could be brought down. Such an approach would avoid the imposition on schools and colleges of an administrative burden whose impact and cost is unknown. We have received no evidence, however, to suggest that the Department gave any serious consideration to modifying the EMA. The Association of Colleges told us that the decision to end the EMA "was made without any prior consultation and without looking at alternative ways to improve the scheme".[183]

108. The EMA was imperfectly targeted in that it failed to differentiate between students who benefited from free or subsidised travel and those who did not, or those who had to pay for equipment and clothing and those who did not.[184] More careful targeting is a good idea in principle, but it can have unforeseen consequences for those most in need, and there is no certainty that schools and colleges will be equipped to be more discriminating, or indeed any fairer, than the income measure which has been used until now to calculate EMA. It will be difficult to ensure that bursary funds are matched efficiently to need and that inconsistencies which will inevitably arise do not erode confidence in the scheme or distort learners' choices of where to study. The Committee is not persuaded that a strong enough case has been made for distributing £180 million in student support as discretionary bursaries rather than as a slimmed-down, more targeted entitlement. We believe that the Department should have conducted an earlier, more public assessment of the options for better targeting of student support.

Travel costs

109. The cost of travel for young people in post-compulsory study was cited repeatedly as one which young people struggled to meet and on which Education Maintenance Allowance was spent. There is no requirement on local authorities to assist with the costs necessarily incurred by 16-18 year olds travelling to and from places of learning. Local authorities have instead a duty under section 509AA of the Education Act 1996 to publish a transport policy statement each year, setting out how they will support 16- to 18-year-olds, either through transport arrangements or financial assistance with transport, to access education and training.[185]

110. The NFER's study of barriers to participation in education and training identified the cost of travel as a constraint. Cost rather than availability was the issue, although only 2% of those sampled reported that the cost of travel had stopped them from doing what they wanted to do, whereas 16% said that cost had been a problem but that they had coped with it. The study found that young people in rural areas were more likely than those in urban areas to identify cost as a barrier or constraint.[186] Availability of transport was also an issue. However, we were told by students from Brooke House Sixth Form College in Hackney, London, that the cost of daily travel for those who lived in parts of London which were far from the college were substantial and that the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance would deter them from studying at Brooke House.[187] We also note that 34% of the 144 young people in the NFER survey who did not go into education or training after Year 11 said that they would have done so had they received more money to cover the cost of transport.[188]

111. In February this year, the Association of Colleges provided the Transport Committee with a memorandum on the impact of the 2010 Spending Review on bus services. In December 2010, the Association commissioned a survey of its members requesting information and views on the accessibility of transport for people aged 16-19 attending colleges. The survey suggested that:

  • 72% of students travel to college by bus
  • Local authority support for 16-19 transport is extremely varied: 29% provide transport, 20% provide financial support, 18% provide both and 27% provide neither;
  • The majority of colleges (78%) provide some form of financial assistance for transport, either through financial support or provision of services

The Association noted a view from one college that local authority subsidised schemes could be out of reach for some of the poorest students,[189] and it pointed out that the level of subsidy varied across local authorities, with some charging over £500 per annum for a student travel pass.

112. Evidence to our inquiry drew attention to several local authorities which, because of tighter budgets, were planning to cut back the support offered to 16-18 year olds travelling to and from learning. For instance, Norfolk County Council, although it will continue to provide support for travel by 16-18 year olds, will need to make a saving of £1 million in the scheme's budget from 2012-13.[190] We were told that proposals being considered by Lincolnshire County Council would result in an increase of 100% in learners' travel costs.[191] The Principal of Alton College told us that her local authority (Hampshire County Council) was consulting on removing or reducing assistance with transport costs for students from low-income families, and on introducing a charge for travel costs for post-16 students with learning difficulties and disabilities.[192] Cumbria County Council Cabinet agreed on 28 April to bring an end to its free travel scheme for 16-19 year olds attending college and to require a contribution of £350 from each learner from September 2011 (although a hardship fund of £130,000 will be created).[193]

113. Many examples were provided to the Committee of students who used the EMA to cover the costs incurred in travelling to institutions offering courses which they believed best matched their needs, rather than those which were closest.[194] We note the decision of at least one local authority to subsidise transport only to the nearest college, irrespective of whether that college offers the course which the student wishes to follow.[195]

Transport for 16-18 year olds in learning: a long-term answer

114. The Government has recognised that, in the absence of the Education Maintenance Allowance, 16 to 18 year old learners facing hardship would need financial assistance to cover the cost of travel. Whereas the existing scheme for discretionary learner support cannot be used to cover travel costs, claims for assistance with travel would be eligible under the bursary scheme now brought forward by the Government. We have considered, however, whether there is a good reason why a requirement on local authorities to provide free travel to and from school for children of compulsory school age, in certain circumstances,[196] should not be extended, on principle, to provide for those who will be of compulsory participation age from 2013 and beyond.

115. The Department said in April this year that it has "no current plans to extend the pre-16 transport duty to cover young people of sixth form age in further education or training when the participation age is raised".[197] It is, however, planning a review of school transport, which will include an examination of "what practice exists for post-16 provision".[198]

116. It is wrong that travel costs should exert undue influence on students' decisions on whether to study and where: the suitability and quality of courses should be the main determinant. Although there is as yet no evidence of a trend among young people to decide against studying their first choice course at a distant college because of higher travel costs, Mr Ward (Deputy General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders) said that it was "hard to see that there won't be such changes in behaviour".[199] There is a strong argument for saying that 16 and 17 year olds subject to compulsory study or training should be eligible for free (or perhaps subsidised) travel in the same way as children of compulsory school age.[200] We recommend that the Government should, as part of its review of school transport, assess the cost of offering free or subsidised travel to all 16 to 18 year olds travelling to and from learning. The aim should be to achieve, through co-operation between schools, colleges, local authorities and transport companies, free or subsidised travel to and from learning for all 16 to 18 year olds.

Free school meals

117. Free school meals are available to pupils in a school sixth form but not to pupils studying in further education or sixth form colleges. The Department "has registered concern" over this "but currently has no plans to extend free school meal eligibility".[201]

118. We asked witnesses whether they could discern any logic behind this distinction. Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges said "None whatever", and Martin Ward, Deputy General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders replied "No. It makes no sense at all" and suggested that it was an unintended consequence of the profusion of different types of school and college. Mark Corney, a consultant and author,[202] said simply that it was "a scandal. Either you level down or you level up".[203] Mr Doel, referring to a suggestion by the Secretary of State that not all colleges had canteens where they could offer free school meals,[204] said:

    Our sense ... is that all colleges would make provision for those students to make use of free school meals within their estate. Some of them will not currently have a dining room as you would have in an 11 to 16 school or a sixth-form college, but every college we have asked says that if that provision was made they would make it available.[205]

We note that only "a majority" of the free schools intending to open in September 2011 will have catering facilities.[206]

119. We asked Lord Hill, the Minister with responsibility for school funding, whether the Department planned to extend eligibility for free school meals to 16 to 18 year olds studying at colleges. He replied:

    It will be the same principle for the new fund. Whether it is transport or helping with food, that would be at the discretion of the school or college. That reflects in part the fact that the landscape and what young people are doing post-16 is quite different from what they are doing pre-16. They are working in different places; they travel; they arrive; they might be doing an apprenticeship; they might be at work. The universal approach to all in the cohort saying, "This is the entitlement you get" does not fit as comfortably with one model post-16 as it does pre-16.[207]

We do not find this argument convincing. Eligibility for free school meals reflects household income, and it seems wholly unfair that young people from equally deprived backgrounds should have unequal access to financial support or to support in kind, purely because of where they have chosen to study. There is no logic in making free school meals available to 16-18 year olds in schools but not in colleges, and, while we recognise that the financial implications would make an early change of policy difficult, we recommend that parity of eligibility should be the medium to long-term aim.

121   Main sample from a survey of 2,029 young people who had completed Year 11 in either 2008 or 2009; booster samples from particular subgroups, including young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, their parents, teenage parents, and young people not in education, employment or training. See Barriers to participation in education and training, National Foundation for Educational Research, 2010, paragraph 1.3 Back

122   Barriers to participation in education and training, National Foundation for Educational Research, 2010, paragraphs 5.3, 5.7 and 5.8. See also Dr Spielhofer, Q 257 Back

123   See House of Commons Library Standard Note SN05778: Back

124   HC Deb 19 January 2011 col 858W Back

125   HC Deb 7 December 2010 col 254W Back

126   HC Deb 15 December 2010, col. 322WH Back

127   Necessary equipment and clothing might include knives for catering courses, or footwear for students on dance or construction courses: see memorandum from Campaign to save the EMA, Ev w88. At Easton College in Norfolk, which specialises in agricultural and land-based courses, safety equipment cost £300 on average per learner; for those studying arboriculture, the figure was £800 to £1,000 per learner: see Q 51.  Back

128   Submission from Mrs Cleave, Ev w1 Back

129   Submission from Jo Sugrue [Not printed] Back

130   Mrs Newman-McKie Ev w1, Catholic Education Service Ev w8, paragraph 3(iv) Back

131   See memorandum from Campaign to save the EMA, Ev w88 Back

132   Memorandum from Action for Children, Ev w58, paragraph 1.2 Back

133   Further memorandum from the Children's Society, Ev 109 Back

134   See Annex 1. The difficulty of finding part-time work was raised by the National Association of Student Money Advisers, Ev w65, and by Central London Connexions, Ev w93, paragraph 1.4. Back

135   Memorandum from Centrepoint, Ev 81, paragraph 11 Back

136   Ev w90 Back

137   Redbridge College: see Times Educational Supplement, 3 June 2011. Middlesbrough College: see Times Educational Supplement, 20 May 2011 Back

138   Only £115.5 million will be allocated in the 2011-12 academic year, as a number of students who might be expected to qualify for a bursary will be supported by transitional protection as described in paragraph 85. See HC Deb 4 July 2011 col 980W Back

139   HC Deb 28 March 2011 col 53 Back

140   Financial Support for 16 to 19 year olds in Education or Training, DfE consultation paper, March 2011; see also HC Deb 26 April 2011 col 280W Back

141   Q 220 Back

142   Q 292 Back

143   DfEE Press Release 45/99, issued on 28 January 1999 Back

144   Raising Expectations: staying in education and training post-16, DfES Green Paper, March 2007, Cm 7065, paragraph 5.23 Back

145   HC Deb 15 November 2010 c593W Back

146   Department for Children, Schools and Families Resource Accounts 2009-10, HC 256, Session 2010-12 Back

147   See House of Commons Library Briefing Paper SNSG 5778, at Back

148   We were told that young people objected to the use of the term "deadweight" to describe people trying to stay on in education despite hardship: memorandum from Save EMA Campaign Ev w107 Back

149   School Funding and Social Justice: A Guide to the Pupil Premium, Policy Exchange, 2008 Back

150   838 of the 2,029 young people who took part in the study said that they were receiving the EMA: see Q 252 Back

151   Barriers to participation in education and training, DfE Research Report RR009, page 7 Back

152   Q 252-4 Back

153   Q 252 Back

154   Education Maintenance Allowance: The First Two Years: A Quantitative Evaluation, Centre for Research in Social Policy/Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2002, Chapter 2 Back

155   Evaluation of the EMA National Roll-out, Aitken et al, RCU, 2007 Back

156   Conditional Cash Transfers and School Dropout Rates, Dearden et al, IFS, 2007 Back

157   Education Maintenance Allowance: The First Two Years: A Quantitative Evaluation, Centre for Research in Social Policy/Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2002, page 131 Back

158   Evaluation of the EMA National Roll-out, Aitken et al, RCU, 2007, page 71 Back

159   5 to 7 percentage points: Liverpool Community College, cited by the Merseyside Colleges' Association, Ev w50. 17 percentage points cited by Mick Fletcher, Q 10, in relation to Lambeth College (figure for 2008-09); a figure of 15 percentage points was cited by the UCU for Lambeth College (figure for 2009-10), Ev w42 Back

160   Saint John Fisher Catholic College Ev w3 Back

161   City College Plymouth, cited by the Association of Colleges, Ev 73 paragraph 11. See also LEACAN Ev w27; Hull College Group, Ev 88 Back

162   Payments are expected to be made in three blocks during the course of the academic year: Mr Lauener Q 279 Back

163   See for instance Careers South West, Ev w2, Leacan, Ev w28, UCU, Ev w43 and NUS, Ev w114 Back

164   Memorandum from Cumbria County Council, Ev 92, paragraph 1.5 Back

165   Peterborough City Council, Ev w91,paragraph 14 Back

166   Lincolnshire 14-19 Strategic Partnership, Ev w31, section 2 Back

167   Q 220 Back

168   Q 255 Back

169   Q 225 Back

170   Ev w28 paragraph 7 Back

171   Memorandum from UCU (University and College Union), Ev w42, paragraph 20, and Leeds 11-19 Learning and Support Partnership, Ev w48 paragraph 1.6; also memo from Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Ev w104 paragraph 4.6 Back

172   Financial Support for 16 to 19 year olds in Education or Training, DfE consultation paper, March 2011, paragraph 3.4 Back

173   HC Deb 10 May 2011 col 1140W Back

174   Q 74 Back

175   Q 227 Back

176   Ev w28 paragraph 8 Back

177   Q 224 Back

178   Ev w50 paragraph 3 Back

179   HC Deb 9 May 2011 col 964W Back

180   HC Deb 12 May 2011 col 1311W Back

181   Information supplied by the Association of Colleges [not printed]; see also further memorandum from the Association of Colleges, Ev 104 Back

182   Q 218 Back

183   Ev 72, paragraph 6 Back

184   See Mick Fletcher Q 24 Back

185   See Back

186   Barriers to participation in education and training, National Foundation for Educational Research, 2010, paragraph 4.2 Back

187   See Annex 1 Back

188   Barriers to participation in education and training, National Foundation for Educational Research, 2010, paragraph 4.2 Back

189   The particular view related to Nottinghamshire County Council, which offers a half-fare pass at an up-front cost of £99 Back

190   Memorandum by Easton College, Ev 78 paragraph 6 Back

191   Ev w32, section 8  Back

192   Jane Machell Q 33 Back

193   Minutes of Cumbria County Council Cabinet, on Council website Back

194   For example Catholic Education Service, Ev w8; memorandum from Mrs Newman-McKie, Ev w1; Mr Wood Q 52; also Annex 2 Back

195   See further memorandum from the Association of Colleges, Ev 104. The local authority concerned is Lincolnshire County Council. Back

196   Local authorities must provide free home to school transport for pupils of compulsory school age who are attending their nearest suitable school, provided that the school is beyond the statutory walking distances (2 miles for pupils below the age of eight and 3 miles for those aged eight and over). Free travel must also be provided for children who are unable to walk because they have special educational needs, a disability, mobility problems, or because their walking route is unsafe. Pupils entitled to free school meals or whose parents are in receipt of maximum Working Tax Credit will also be eligible for free travel. See Department for Education website: Back

197   HL Deb 26 April 2011, col WA 98 Back

198   HC Deb 26 April 2011 col 297W Back

199   Q 229 Back

200   See Jane Machell Q 55 Back

201   HC Deb 4 April 2011 col 706W Back

202   For instance Raising the participation age-keeping it on track, published by CfBT Education Trust, 2009 Back

203   Q 14 Back

204   HC Deb 28 March 2011 col 59 Back

205   Q 222 Back

206   HC Deb 29 June 2011 col 888W Back

207   Q 303 Back

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Prepared 19 July 2011