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

Written evidence submitted by Platform 51

What impact the Education Maintenance Allowance has had on the participation, attendance, achievement and welfare of young people and how effective will be the Discretionary Learner Support Fund in replacing it

1.  As part of Platform 51's education offer, we previously provided Entry to Employment (E2E) learning and now provide Foundation learning. We also prepare and support young women into college and work with girls in college to support them to remain in training. Young women we work with tell us that the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is essential to cover their basic expenses associated with staying on in education or training. For many it pays for transport costs to and from college and any placement they may be involved with. For others it covers books and other materials needed for their course. For those who have placements, EMA is used to buy necessary clothing. And for others, it provides money for food. A significant proportion of girls we work with in this age group currently qualify for EMA therefore the removal of this will inevitably negatively impact on other girls we work with.

2.  Platform 51 strongly opposes the removal of the EMA

3.  We know from our work with girls and women that EMA is and has been one of the main reasons why they access Foundation Learning in the first place and without it they would have opted to try and get paid employment rather than staying on in education.

4.  Evidence from a survey by the University and College Union (UCU) showed that seven in ten students (70%) who receive EMA would drop out of college if it was withdrawn, and that nearly two-thirds (63%) do not get any help from their families to meet study costs.[59] Furthermore, evidence from the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that EMA increases participation and pays for itself in the long run.[60]

5.  We recently conducted a survey with twenty young women in one of our centres situated in an area of multiple deprivation, who currently receive EMA. Of these, all 20 stated that they would not have been able to attend college without it and that if they did not continue to receive any financial support they would have to drop out.

6.  These young women felt strongly that removal of EMA would prevent girls and young women from gaining professional qualifications and negatively impact on women's equality in employment in the longer term. They also felt that supporting girls and young women to stay in education and training contributed to increased self-esteem and would help reduce rates of teenage pregnancy

7.  According to evidence from the 157 Group of large colleges, despite coming from the poorest families and in some cases having low level qualifications, EMA students miss fewer classes and are more likely to stay in education than students from higher income families. Retention rates of those on EMA are very high.[61]

8.  In our view, EMA also encourages skills necessary for the workplace such as punctuality, meeting educational targets and displaying professional behaviour.

9.  Discretionary Learner Support

10.  Platform 51 has concerns about the Discretionary Learner Support. We are particularly concerned that the amount available to young people is likely to be significantly reduced.

11.  Platform 51 believes that any enhanced Discretionary Learner Support fund must ensure that all young people have the basic requirements to allow them to learn and stay in education or training.

12.  The Discretionary Learner Support fund must ensure that all barriers to learning are taken into account. For example, transport costs (taking into account differences in rural areas and the need for additional transport costs if students are on placements); resources and materials; and adequate clothing.

13.  The Government must ensure that information about the Discretionary Learner Support fund reaches all communities. Young people who need support should never miss out due to lack of information or knowledge.

14.  The Government must ensure that information about the Discretionary Learner Support fund is available from an early stage. Young people need to know well before enrolling on a course what support is available so they are able to make informed choices.

15.  It is essential that the Discretionary Learner Support fund is never used as a way to "cherry-pick" young people into education. This could leave those with more difficult past histories unable to afford to remain in education or training.

16.  Allocations of the Discretionary Learner Support fund must be in the hands of the providers well before enrolment day to ensure that young people who will be given financial support do not encounter hardship in any intervening period.

17.  The Discretionary Learner Support fund should provide some form of income directly to young people directly as this empowers them and encourages them to learn independent life skills by managing their money.

18.  The Discretionary Learner Support fund should ensure that young people facing the biggest barriers to participation are supported, including those living independently, those who have few or no qualifications, those on the lowest incomes, looked after young people and young parents.

19.  What impact raising the participation age will have on areas such as academic achievement, access to vocational education and training, student attendance and behaviour, and alternative provision

20.  Platform 51 supports the raising of the participation age as it has the potential to support young women to achieve. However, this in itself will not automatically increase achievement. For many girls and women we work with formal education did not work for them and they disengaged at an early age. It is therefore essential that personalised support is available to young people from an early age which recognises the reasons why and how they disengage. Furthermore, our work with girls and young women shows us that girls and boys disengage from formal education for different reasons and we believe that there needs to be an explicit gender analysis of young people's disengagement from formal education.

21.  We believe that there needs to be greater investment in alternative provision to mainstream education such as that provided by organisations such as Platform 51 and that this needs to be a core part of the plans to raise the participation age. We provide alternative education and have experience of working with the most disengaged through identifying and addressing barriers to learning.

22.  High quality information, advice and guidance is essential to the success of raising the participation age. Girls and women we work with often tell us that they either did not receive any careers advice or that if they did, it was unhelpful or steered them towards traditionally "female" pathways such as childcare or hairdressing. Young people need to be able to make informed choices about the paths they take. If they take a pathway which is not right for them without the support to identify what is right, the likelihood of disengagement will increase.

25 March 2011

59   - Back

60   "An efficient education maintenance allowance?", Institute for Fiscal Studies, Haroon Chowdry and Carl Emmerson, December, 2010, Back

61 Back

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Prepared 19 July 2011