Education Maintenance Allowances worked

Your opinion piece (Jan 8) attacks Education Maintenance Allowances as having failed to achieve their objective. This is, in fact, wide of the mark, particularly so in north-east Sheffield.

The idea of EMAs for 16-19 year olds was piloted first in the coalfields of South Yorkshire by the philanthropic donations of Sir Robert Ogden and inspired many to stay on at school and aspire to university.

At the time, I was Education Secretary and took up the challenge of seeing if we could make such allowances universal and available to low-income families. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has demonstrated that these allowances made a significant contribution to improving staying-on rates in areas like north Sheffield, with the creation of Longley Park College and Hillsborough Centre (as part of Sheffield College) from 2004.

Literally thousands of young people who would not have stayed on in further education have done so – and many have started the long climb through university to a different life than the one they would have had 10 years ago. In fact, the number of young people from north-east Sheffield going to university doubled. Although we started from a low base, this change is important in catching up with the two-thirds of students in Hallam constituency who currently go on to higher education. It made a transformational difference to those now staying on in droves, contrary to those who claimed two sixth-form colleges in the north of Sheffield would never work.

Undoubtedly there could be improvements in how EMAs were focused on those in greatest need, but their abolition is devastating for young people, family income and for the opportunity to buy books, to get to and from college and to be able to operate on equal terms with others.

Rt Hon David Blunkett MP

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