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← Overview Database of Innovative Social Policies in Europe

Education Maintenance Allowance

Country of implementation
United Kingdom
General short description of the innovation
The EMA scheme was implemented by the Labour government and, after some regional piloting, rolled out nationally from September 2004. The scheme originally targeted 16-18 year old full-time students and aimed to directly reduce the monetary cost of education participation among such students to keep them in schools for up to two years beyond the statutory age. In the 2007/08 academic year, the policy was extended to the entire 16 to 19 year old age group. Eligible persons are entitled to the allowance if they are studying for A-levels, GCSEs, or vocational courses and are attending: either a course of further education at a college or school on a full-time basis; a Diploma or a Foundation Learning Programme funded by the Young People?s Learning Agency (the non-departmental public body that channels the EMA and other funds for post-compulsory learners to local authorities) or; a course leading to an Apprenticeship. / The allowances was means-tested and tapered on a linear scale, with students receiving differing weekly amounts according to their family income threshold, in increments of 10, 20 or 30 per week. State-provided benefits and other forms of support are not taken into account in the calculation of household income, nor are earnings that the student themselves may make through activities such as part-time employment. The scheme was intended to cover the day-to-day costs that students have to meet when they stay on at school or college, for example, travel costs, books and equipment. / / In 2010, the Coalition government has used findings from more recent research to argue in favour of scrapping the EMA in England. It still continues to exist in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. At the time the EMA was cancelled, there were plans to enforce further education participation by raising the compulsory age at which pupils must be in some form of education or work-based training to 17 by 2013 and to 18 by 2015. In England, this policy was adopted. Young people must stay in some form of education or training until the end of the academic year when they turn 17, if they left year 11 in the summer of 2013. If they started year 11 in September 2013 or later they have to do so until they turn 18. The newly adopted 16-19 Bursary Fund helps pay for essential education-related costs but is supported by a much smaller budget than the previously existing EMA.
Target group
Policy Field
  • equal opportunities
Type of Policy
  • public
Duration of the policy
2004-2010 on a national level; it is still in place in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. It was cancelled for England in 2010.
Scope of innovation
  • Scope: structural
  • Budgets: approximately 134 million between 2004 and 2012
  • Spatial coverage: originally national, now kept in some regions
General description of (intended) objectives and strategies
The policy intended to tackle financial constraints as a barrier to involvement in post-16 education, especially among students from worse-off backgrounds. The aims of the policy were threefold: to raise participation rates in post-compulsory education, particularly among pupils from deprived social backgrounds; to improve retention rates in the post-16 age category; and to raise attainment levels in further education. / / Attendance and performance-related conditions attached to the receipt of EMA and the payment of bonuses were the main means of influence on both retention and attainment levels. /
Type of innovation
  • new policy, practice or measure
New outputs
  • others (participation in education)
Clarification of intended mechanisms, outputs and outcomes (optional)
Increasing education participation and attainment levels
Intended target group
young students aged 16 to 18
Working age population
  • employment situation (low)
Actors involved in policy-making/implementation and/or evaluation
  • central state
Intended output
  • others (participation in full or part-time education)
Clarification of outcomes in terms of impacting resilience and labour market inclusion
In 2008, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) evaluated the EMA pilots (Dearden et al 2009). It was found that the scheme had been successful on all fronts: Educational participation rose, particularly among students entitled to the maximum payout, and retention rates also improved; Average participation in further education increased year by year, indicating that once pupils in the pilot programme decided to enter post-16 education they were committed to its full duration; A-level achievement for those entitled to EMA was stronger, with students scoring on average higher relative to the control group in the study. It is estimated that around two-thirds of individuals who stayed in education were drawn from inactivity rather than paid work. The effect of the EMA is found to be largest for children with lower levels of prior educational achievement. The study also found that the EMA policy presented a form of redistribution to lower-income households with dependent children. / / In 2010, a study of the National Foundation for Educational Research carried out on behalf of the Department for Education came to different conclusions (Spielhofer et al. 2010). Only 12% of those who continued education receiving EMA agreed that they would not have done so without the allowance payment, meaning that 88% would have continued anyway. As a consequence, after the change in government the Coalition Government argued that this ?deadweight? cost was too high in a time of financial austerity and therefore suggested to better target finances. Furthermore, it was argued that a compulsory requirement to remain in education or training beyond the age of 16 combined with discretionary support funds appears to be a more economically sound policy than nationally-available EMA payouts (Wilson 2011). / / Third Sector Organisations like the CfBT Education Trust stressed that, following their own observations and existing analysis, the EMA should be maintained, despite proposals to raise the statutory leaving age and despite the crisis (Fletscher 2009). Research that was done for the Manchester City Council (MCC 2012) found that there has been an impact in 2011 on both attendance and retention rates for those young people not in receipt of EMA. The impact has been greatest in subjects traditionally chosen by young people from our most deprived wards, which might however be due to various factors. / / References: / - Dearden, L., et al. (2009). Conditional Cash Transfers and School Dropout Rates. Journal of Human Resources, 44(4), 828-857. / - Fletscher M. (2009). Should we end the Education Maintenance Allowance? CfBT Education Trust report. Available: / - MCC (2012): Impact of the removal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance. Available: / Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (2013). Social Mobility ? the next steps, London. Available: / - Spielhofer, T., Golden, S. and Evans, K. (2014). Barriers to Participation in Education and Training, Research Report DFE-RR09. Available: / - Wilson, J. (2011). Scapping the EMA ? Jeopardising the Coalition?s plans for social mobility? Available:
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