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Education Maintenance Allowance

Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) were rolled out nationally in September 2004. The aim of EMAs was to broaden participation of young people in 16 – 19 education and to improve retention and attainment.  The EMA was designed as a ‘something for something’ scheme, where students had to show satisfactory progress and attendance to receive their allowance.

Over the years the take up of the EMA and Government spending on the scheme rose significantly. In 2010/11, the last year of the full scheme, approximately 636,000 students received the EMA in England at a cost to the Government of around £564 million. More background information on EMAs can be found in the Commonns Library briefing paper Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) Statistics.

EMAs were extensively evaluated to ascertain their effectiveness. Studies showed that they had a positive impact on retention of students, but less impact on achievement.

Withdrawal of EMAs and replacement with new 16-19 bursary scheme – September 2011

In October 2010 the Coalition Government announced that EMAs would be abolished and replaced by a more efficient, targeted scheme. The new 16 – 19 bursary scheme was introduced from September 2011. The value of this replacement scheme stood at around £180 million in both 2014-15 and 2015-16. This was less than one third of the level of spending on EMAs in cash terms.

The introduction of the new 16-19 bursary system was closely followed by the phased implementation of another reform, known as raising the participation age, or RPA. This reform meant that those finishing compulsory schooling (year 11) in summer 2013 were required to stay in some form of education or training for an additional year. The participation age was raised to 18 for those finishing year 11 in summer 2014.

Who can receive 16-19 bursaries?

There are two different types of bursary:

  • Discretionary bursaries: as the name suggests, there is no fixed level of support, and institutions set eligibility criteria and support type (e.g., cash or in-kind help). They are designed for young people facing financial barriers to participation and needing help to stay on in education.
  • Vulnerable student bursaries of up to £1,200. These can be paid to: young people in care; care leavers; and those in receipt of certain social security benefits in their own right.

Evaluation commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) and published in 2014 found that the amount of discretionary bursary spend per student in 2013/14 varied considerably, from £60 to around £4,000. The median level of spending per student in 2013/14 was £447.

What impact has the 16-19 bursary scheme had, and how is it working in practice?

Researchers have tried to estimate the impact of replacing EMAs with the 16-19 bursary scheme, and to assess how the new scheme is itself working. DfE-commissioned evaluation suggested that replacing EMAs with 16-19 bursaries was associated with a relatively modest decrease in participation and attainment in the first two years of the scheme’s operation. However, this disproportionately affected low-income young people.

The 16-19 bursary scheme allows providers a high degree of discretion in terms of who receives support, and what kinds of support. A second DfE-commissioned evaluation found that most providers thought the bursary was a positive thing; however, there was a lack of consistency between providers in terms of what was offered, and when. Awareness about bursary support was high (at 71% of students undertaking post-16 study) but it was lower at the point when young people were considering their options for post-16.

Analysis by the National Audit Office (NAO) published in September 2014 concluded that although the Coalition Government reduced financial support for 16-18 year olds, the new bursary fund targeted the remaining funding better.

Scope of this briefing paper

This note mostly concerns England, but includes some brief information about the continuing EMA schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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