28 Mar 2011

Gove to spell out EMA replacement plans

Education Secretary Michael Gove (Getty)Michael Gove will announce what the Government intends to do to mitigate the effects of abolishing Educational Maintenance Allowances later this afternoon.

EMAs, I’m told, were frequently in Tony Blair‘s sights as he looked for savings (they were costing £560m a year). Anyway, years after he was fought off, the EMAs died in George Osborne’s Spending Review statement last Autumn.

EMA supporters say the payments of up to £30 a week were hugely effective at keeping people in education between the ages of 16 and 19 as they eyed the marginal cost of taking up part-time work and slipping out of education.

The Government insists that the EMAs scattered money too widely for an age of austerity and carried huge dead weight costs giving money to people who would never have considered quitting education.

Economists writing to The Guardian said there were dead weight costs to innoculations but that didn’t make them wrong.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) supported EMAs too, saying that cost benefit analysis suggested the costs of the EMA “were likely to be exceeded in the long run by the higher wages that its recipients would go on to enjoy in future.”

As part of the new Coalition dispensation allowing Liberal Democrats to brag about internal “victories” a bit more, today’s proposal is being “badged” as the Lib Dems triumphing over Tory resistance.

Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes are being credited with getting the Coalition to come up with a plan that means 12,000 of the poorest students get more than the current EMA payment.

There will be more than 12,000 helped by the replacement but it may be hard to know for sure how many more if much discretion is left to colleges to decide who they help. For comparison, 600,000 were helped by EMAs.

UPDATE: Michael Gove, the lead cheer-leader for the Coalition amongst Tories, did the Lib Dem “badging” for them in announcing the EMA’s cheaper replacement.

To shouts of “U-turn” from Labour benches, he credited David Laws, Sarah Teather, Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes with devising the best bits of Coalition education policy and singled out Simon Hughes for his work on the EMA replacement.

Michael Gove’s aides say he’s secured £70m extra money from the Treasury for this (on top of the £110m they say the Department put aside for some sort of EMA-lite policy back last Autumn).

As I said before, there’s no Government number on how many will be helped by the new “16 to 19 bursaries” as they’re being called, as the colleges and schools get to decide how money is distributed…although Michael Gove did say the £180m bursary was enough to give £800 a year to those (170,000) on free school meals.

Andy Burnham called it a “total shambles” and “a humiliating climbdown” and a “60 per cent cut” and said Michael Gove was “the Coalition’s Mr Bean.” He said school staff would be hard-pressed to make judgement calls on who was deserving of the reduced help.

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