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Consultation Document - 16+ Learning Choices: First Step Activity and Financial Support

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Section 2: Financial Support

27. Young people are able to access a number of different streams of financial support, depending on the learning they are undertaking. This section considers some existing models of financial support - the Education Maintenance Allowance ( EMA) in schools and colleges and the Minimum Training Allowance payable to young people on Get Ready for Work - and also considers how we might extend systematic financial support to young people involved in learning in a community or third sector setting as described in Section 1. Within our existing resources, your views are invited on how we can best target our investment at those young people most in need of support.

28. This section also invites your views on Young Person's Bridging Allowance.

29. Annex B provides more detailed information about evaluation and research on the existing EMA programme.

Financial support in school and college

EMA - background

30. The Education Maintenance Allowance ( EMA) was originally a UK-wide initiative. It was piloted in Scotland between 1999 and 2004 and rolled out nationally from 2004-05. It provides financial support to 16-19 year olds from low income households who are attending non-advanced full-time education at school, college or who are home educated. In Scotland, it replaced Higher School Bursaries and Category A Bursaries.

31. The original aim of EMA was to address the link between low income and low attainment by providing a financial incentive to young people from low-income households to remain in full-time education beyond the statutory school leaving age. Young people from low income families face financial barriers to continuing learning and the EMA is designed to remove those barriers.

32. EMA is a means-tested weekly allowance of £10, £20 or £30 and is paid fortnightly during term-time.

33. All eligible EMA applicants must complete and sign a learning agreement before they can begin to receive weekly payments. The learning agreement will contain a number of details such as the student's study aims and goals, a study programme including attendance and course work requirements and a statement of understanding that the EMA may be withheld if the terms of the learning agreement are not met.

34. Weekly payment of the EMA requires 100% attendance at all timetabled sessions although absences can be authorised by the educational provider where there is good cause.

35. EMA recipients may be eligible for two bonus payments of £150 each during the academic year. The purpose of the bonus is to reward achievement and they reflect progress within the terms of the learning agreement and reward completion of course work, behaviour, attitude and attendance.

36. EMA is seen as a strong model for distributing support - which is very different from our other support schemes - for two main reasons.

  • First of all, support is on a "something for something" basis - so payments are tied to attendance and achieving goals set out in a learning agreement.
  • Secondly, EMA is passported against benefits meaning families of students receiving EMA are still entitled to child benefit etc. This is not the case for other forms of support. This is an essential element of the scheme as the ability to retain benefits clearly has a significant impact on decision making from families on the lowest incomes.

Evaluation and investment

37. The Scottish Government is committed to creating opportunities for its young people. A strategic priority of More Choices, More Chances is to review the financial support arrangements for 16-19 year olds in Scotland and specifically looks to address the issue of parity for young people in education and vocational training.

38. Evaluation of EMA (detailed at Annex B) shows that, although it has some impact on behaviour, attendance and attainment, most young people would have remained in school even if they did not receive EMA. The Scottish Government would like to consider ways to better target the EMA scheme to help those young people hardest to reach and who face the greatest financial barriers to staying on in learning and training.

39. If there is clear evidence that our current investment is not having a significant impact on this then we need to seriously consider whether this is the best use of our resources and if there is a strong case for them being re-invested elsewhere. Section 1 above describes areas where we would like to reinvest any resources which are made available from EMA.

EMA options

40. There are some options for making the EMA more focussed on the young people who are in greatest need of support that can be considered.

41. Firstly, we could consider phasing out the £20 and £10 payments. Most EMA recipients receive the maximum weekly payment of £30. In 2006-07 81% of EMA recipients received the maximum weekly payment. The rationale behind this is supported by recent English research which found that lower payments (particularly the £10) have little impact on participation rates. Savings made by phasing out the £10 and £20 payments could be used to support other young people in other types of learning who are in greater need of this support.

42. The bonus payment is available to reward completion of course work, behaviour, attitude and attendance. We believe it is important to retain the bonus; the issue is at what level. The English research studies suggest that there is no evidence that increasing the bonus would improve attainment so we would suggest maintaining the bonuses as they are. In 2006-07 61% of EMA recipients who attended for the entire year received both bonus payments while 84% received at least one bonus payment.

43. The income threshold for the EMA could be aligned with the FE bursary income thresholds. The threshold for the £30 payment of EMA in 2008-09 is £21,835. The income assessment for students who are at college and to receive a full FE bursary is £19,835. We believe that it would make sense to align these thresholds.

Schools and Colleges

44. Given that the research identified slightly different attitudes to the EMA between the school and college sectors, the impact of any changes to the EMA would have to be considered for each.

  • What is your view on the impact of the EMA scheme overall? (Please comment on the scheme's impact upon post-16 participation, retention and achievement rates as well as any effects the scheme might have had upon behaviour, attendance and attitude of students).
  • In your opinion, does the degree of impact vary according to the level of payment ( i.e. £30, £20, £10)?
  • How could EMA be targeted more effectively?
  • Are the current conditions attached to the weekly payment appropriate ( i.e. based on 100% attendance)? (If yes, please explain your answer. if no, please suggest ways in which this should be revised.)
  • What is the current impact of the bonus payment? Is this current amount appropriate? Please provide an explanation for your answer.
  • Please give your views on the proposal to align income assessment for parity among FE students.
  • How effective is the learning agreement system?
  • Please comment on the proposal to extend the system of learning agreements to other forms of learning or training.
  • Please comment on any specific issues you think may arise in relation to the school or college sectors as a result of these proposals.

EMA Issues

45. Since its inception, the weekly payment bandings for the EMA (£10, £20 and £30) have never been changed. .

46. The income assessment for the EMA is based on that used by HM Revenue and Customs means test for Tax Credit Awards. The household income assessment takes account of the income of those adults who have a caring responsibility for the children in their family household. The number of siblings within the household, who are in full time education are not taken into account in the income assessment.

  • Please give your opinion on the proposal to remove the lower payments from the scheme ( i.e. £10, £20) and to retain £30 payments. What impact do you think this would have?
  • If we remove the £10 and £20 payments, do you think £30 is still appropriate?
  • In your opinion, should children living in the same household who are in full time education be considered in the income assessment for EMA?

Delivery of EMA

47. EMA is currently delivered via local authorities for schools and for those who are home educated and by the Scottish Funding Council ( SFC) via the colleges for college students.

48. The local authorities and colleges make the payments directly to the young people and submit claims to the Scottish Government monthly in arrears. SFC make a claim on behalf of all the colleges. This means that the team who deal with the policy issues around EMA have also retained a key role in delivering the scheme.

49. There are several reasons why this form of delivery was chosen. One reason is that EMA replaced the Higher School Bursary for school pupils and the Category A Bursary for college students and therefore there was already a delivery structure in place. The current model also means that EMA is served with the local discretion of guidance teachers and bursary officers and the administration of EMA is managed in common with other support for young people in school or college, e.g. free school meals, travel, childcare.

50. The local nature of the scheme means that EMA is not applied consistently nationwide and it is marketed differently according to each local authority and college. Centralising the delivery of EMAs, as it is in England, could provide a solution and enable EMA to be applied consistently.

51. The Learning and Skills Council ( LSC), who administer the scheme in England, benefit from a data-sharing agreement with the Department for Work and Pensions ( DWP) and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs ( HMRC). This means that automatic checks can be made on information given on EMA application forms. While there are clear benefits from our local delivery arrangement, this does make it difficult to establish larger scale system-led developments such as this.

  • What is your opinion on how the EMA is currently delivered?
  • Do you think the EMA should continue to be delivered in the same way, so that it benefits from local input, or should delivery be centralised so that it is more consistent across the country?

Financial support on the Get Ready for Work programme

Background

52. Get Ready for Work ( GRfW) was introduced in April 2002 as the national programme for young people (16-19 year olds) who without additional support are unable to access other training, learning or employment opportunities.

53. Mapping work illustrates gaps and inconsistencies in financial support for 16-19 year olds. In More Choices, More Chances we committed to reviewing the financial support arrangements for 16-19 year olds in Scotland addressing the specific issue of parity for young people in education and those on vocational training. In short, the most coherent package of support is currently available to young people following a 'traditional' route through school, college and university. Those individuals who enter vocational training, in this case GRfW, currently receive a training allowance.

54. Although a fixed rate training allowance is currently available for the GRfW programme in Scotland, this is not the case for equivalent programmes elsewhere in the UK. The then Department for Education and Skills ( DfES) introduced EMA for vocational training programmes, including the GRfW work equivalent Entry to Employment (E2E), in 2006. This replaced the existing training allowance in England of a minimum of £40 per week. The rationale behind the change was to offer parity between work-based training and school and college provision. Changes to Child Benefit and Tax Credit regulations extended eligibility for those young people who were participating in work based learning.

55. We were actively involved in the changes to this UK legislation and ensuring that GRfW participants and their parents are not disadvantaged by receiving a training allowance and are able to access Child Benefit, Child Tax Credits and other relevant DWP benefits.

56. This consultation provides an opportunity to consider replacing the current training allowance of £50-£55 per week for non-employed trainees, and extending the means tested EMA model to GRfW clients in Scotland. Changing the allowance from the minimum training allowance to EMA would put GRfW participants on the same financial basis as young people seeking to continuing their education through school or college. This would bring learner support for GRfW into line with most other means tested learner support provided by (or via) the Government.

57. In addition, young people participating in the Life Skills strand on an ad hoc basis for less than 15 hours a week will not currently receive a training allowance. EMA programme allows flexibility - including reduced timetables - for vulnerable young people. If EMA were extended to GRfW some young people may be able to access support where they cannot currently receive a training allowance.

  • Does the current higher training allowance of £55 per week skew the educational choices of individuals?
  • What is your opinion of the proposal to allow those on GRfW to receive EMA?
  • What impact do you think the extension of EMA to the GRfW would have on the programme? What about the impact on young people involved in ad hoc Life Skills provision?

Financial Support for young people learning in a community or third sector setting

58. Section 1 of this consultation paper explores our proposals to improve the way we support and resource young people who are learning in a community or third sector setting.

59. Currently, those young people do not have access to any systematic financial support. In practice, ad hoc allowances may be paid, but these do not have any of the wider advantages ( e.g. the passport against DWP benefits, or the clear link to attainment and progression) of EMA. Uncertainty over, or unavailability of, financial support may mean that some young people are unable to participate in non-formal learning, even where this would be the most appropriate learning option for them.

60. We must therefore consider how we can extend financial support to young people engaged in non-formal learning opportunities. This is an important step towards treating non-formal learning as an equally mainstream option for young people.

  • What is your opinion of the proposal to extend financial support to young people engaged in non-formal learning?
  • What impact would this have on our proposals in Section 1? How can we integrate financial support into this approach?
  • Should financial support for this group of young people be aligned to EMA?

Young Person's Bridging Allowance

61. Young Persons Bridging Allowance ( YPBA) is intended to support 16 and 17 year olds who are in transition between training places, and waiting for a suitable training place. It provides similar support for these young people as the Child Benefit "run on" period does to parents of those who are in between courses in full-time education.

62. In April 2006, entitlement to Child Benefit was extended to unwaged trainees across the UK. In Scotland, this extension was to young people on Get Ready for Work and some Skillseekers. The English equivalent programmes are Entry to Employment and Programme Led Apprenticeship schemes. Child Benefit does not end immediately once a young person leaves these programmes but has a "run on" period of up to 20 weeks.

63. Bridging Allowance is not available to young people for whom there is a Child Benefit entitlement. Because of this, the group of young people eligible for YPBA has reduced considerably, and it is only available to those leaving work, young offenders, and young people with disabilities for whom child and family benefits are not payable.

64. The operation of the scheme means that Jobcentre Plus considers eligibility for the YPBA before Jobseeker's Allowance ( JSA) on the grounds of severe hardship. Last year, the UK Department for Children, Schools and Families ( DCSF) reviewed the need for YPBA in England. That review found that for young people who would be eligible for JSA on grounds of severe hardship, they are no better off receiving YPBA, and are worse off in some circumstances. Some stakeholders expressed concern that its closure might adversely impact on some young people who they felt might receive YPBA payments more readily than JSA on the grounds of severe hardship. As a result of that review, DCSF withdrew YPBA in England in October last year.

  • Do you think there is a continuing need for Young Person's Bridging Allowance?
  • What impact do you think there would be from removing it?
  • In what circumstances do you think a young person should access YPBA instead of other financial support?