Westminster students say they will be forced out of education without EMA

Hundreds of Westminster students will be forced to drop out of school after the government scrapped its education maintenance allowance (EMA), say students and headteachers.

The low-income support grant entitles 16 to 19-year-olds up to �30 a week to help them stay in education but the government last month voted to scrap the scheme which costs �560million a year.

One 17-year-old City of Westminster College student, Ammar Al-Zeer, achieved 12 As and one A* at GCSE and is predicted straight A*s in his A-levels which he will take next year. He says he wants to study medicine at university but will struggle to finish his A-levels without the EMA.

“At the start of the year it went on buying books but now that I have all the resources I need, most of it goes on food and drink,” he said.

“When it is taken away I don’t know how I will survive. My day starts at 9am and ends at 6.30pm but next year I’m going to have to get myself a job which will probably jeopardise my studies. If I can’t find one then I won’t be able to come to college.

“I’m doing my best at college and it’s just a shame that the government seems to be going back in time to when only the elite could go to uni and the poor stayed poor.

“It would be a real shame if I can’t go to uni just because I can’t afford it.”

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EMA offers students �10, �20 or �30 per week depending on income thresholds based on household earnings. The scheme is now closed for all new applicants and will stop for those already receiving it at the end of the current school year.

About 70 per cent of City of Westminster College’s full-time 16 to 18-year-old students receive EMA while the college claims 258 students who qualified last year would not have done so without the support.

At Quintin Kynaston School 84 per cent of sixth formers receive EMA, while 90 per cent of Westminster Academy sixth formers are eligible.

City of Westminster College principal Keith Cowell said: “EMA has been instrumental in us driving up our success rates because what people may not understand is that it is only given to students if they attend, if they are punctual and they do their work.

“That’s hugely motivating for the students and gives the lecturers real sanctions if the students don’t perform well.

“Taking it away would have a detrimental effect and there’s a danger students would start falling back.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Research from the National Foundation for Educational Research found that almost 90 per cent of young people receiving the EMA believed that they would still have participated in the courses they were doing if they had not received it.

“Currently �26million per year is given to schools, colleges and training providers as a discretionary leaner support fund to enable them to make small payments to those young people who are most likely to drop out of education without support. After the EMA is abolished this fund will be significantly increased.”