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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

The government revealed that the evaluation of educational maintenance allowances - introduced as pilot schemes to encourage poor students remain in sixth form education - formed part of the DfES discussions on the spending review.

Junior education minister John Healey was pressed by MPs to expand the scheme - geographically, by some; or by age.

Valerie Baird, Labour MP for Redcar, urged ministers to take account of the problems caused when one authority had EMAs and the neighboring one did not. Redcar and Cleveland did not have EMAs, but neighbouring Middlesbrough did.

'They are both very poor areas, and of course students from Redcar go to Middlesbrough, and vice versa. For a student who does not have the allowance, sitting next to someone who does have it can act as a deterrent to taking on courses and to continuing them', she said.

'Can we hurry? If the benefits are good, can they be rolled out as soon as possible?' she asked.

Mr Healey, who said the second year's evaluation of EMAs would be published soon, had sympathy with Ms Baird's point.

'Rotherham [which covers his Wentworth constituency] is also an area without EMAs, so I am concsious that we cannot continue indefinitely with EMA haves and have-nots sitting side by side in the same classroom. The emerging findings of the evaluation of the EMA programme form part of the discussions going on in government as part of the spending review process', added the minister.

Brian Iddon, Labour MP for Bolton South-East, said EMAs had had a significant impact on attendance and retention rates at Bolton sixth form college, but its principal believe participation rates would improve significantly if the allowances were paid directly to the students and not, as at present, to the parents or guardians.

Mr Healey said Bolton was one of the original 15 pilots. Elswhere, the DfES was testing payments direct to students.

'It is part of the purpose of the pilots to work out not just how well EMAs work, but which model works best and also what impact it has in the longer term on the decisions of young people', said Mr Healey.

'We are examing carefullywhat is happening in Bolton, in particular at Bolton College, and in other EMA pilot areas and in control areas, where we do not yet have EMAs'.

Jeff Ennis, Labour MP for Barnsley East and Mexborough, asked whether, in view of the undoubted success of EMAs, the minister was considering not only rolling out the programme throughout the rest of the country, but extending it to 19 to 24-year-olds and into higher education.

However, the minister cautioned that Mr Ennis was 'racing ahead of our current position'.

He added: 'As he rightly says, the evaluation of EMAs and our knowledge of their impact in south Yorkshire suggests that they have a genuine role to play at the critical point at which so many young, especially in poorer areas, drop out of full-time education.

'That is the principle policy purpose of EMAs andwe are currently concentrating on evaluating it and testing its potential much more widely across the country'.

Hansard 22 May 2002: Column 367-369

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