• Tanya Ovenden-Hope


The Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is a discretionary financial award being developed to support young people from low-income households who undertake full-time courses in Further Education (FE). Truro College is part of the national pilot scheme for this award, which involves 55 Local Education Authorities (LEAs), that was initiated by the Government in September 1999.

The focus of this project has been to examine the extent to which a financial incentive improves post-16 student participation and retention. The outcome of the investigation has shown that there has been a marked increase in both student participation and retention on full-time Advanced Level GCE and Vocational courses since the introduction of the EMA.

An analysis of College quantitative data collected between November 1st 1999 and November 1st 2000 indicates that there has been a total increase in student participation of 12.75% and an increase in student retention of 3.4% on full-time Advanced level FE courses. The examination of student perceptions about the effect of the EMA on participation and retention supports the notion that knowledge of, and access to, a financial award for students from low-income families, encourages involvement in FE.


  • Truro College, Cornwall is a tertiary Further and Higher Education College with 1,950 full-time students in Years 1 and 2 of Further Education courses.

  • Cornwall is one of the poorest counties in the UK and financial hardship for students has been argued to negatively affect participation, retention and achievement rates (Steedman and Young, 1996).

  • Cornwall was chosen as a region to participate in the pilot EMA scheme with Truro College forming part of the original national pilot scheme.

  • In Truro College 538 students are currently in receipt of EMAs.

  • The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is a means-tested allowance given by the Local Education Authority (LEA) to full-time students (aged 16-19 years) in post-compulsory education from low-income families.

  • The EMA is a pilot provision and began in September 1999 and will run for three years.

  • The EMA was introduced to support the Governments commitment to Lifelong Learning and widening participation in Further Education (Kennedy, 1997. Fryer Report,1998.)

  • It is also a way of testing whether financial incentives has any effect on the participation and retention of young people from low-income families in post-16 full-time education courses (DFEE, 2000).

  • There are four models of EMA that were initially piloted in 15 LEAs, however from September 2000 a further 40 LEAs were introduced to the pilot.

  • The 15 original LEAs were Bolton, City of Nottingham, Cornwall, Doncaster, Gateshead, Leeds, London (Greenwich), London (Lambeth), London (Lewisham), London (Southwark), Middlesborough, Oldham, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Walsall.

  • The additional 25 LEAs providing EMAs include two new regions; Eastern (Suffolk) and Merseyside (Liverpool, Knowsley, Halton, Wirral and St. Helens), and extend provision in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside, London, North East, North West, South East and East Midlands.

  • The four models of EMAs established by the Government vary in the amount of money paid to students on a weekly basis, to whom it is paid (student or parents) and the amount for retention (full attendance) and achievement (successful completion of the course).

  • In Cornwall 16 year old students on full-time F.E. courses receive direct up to £30 weekly, £50 termly and £50 at the end of the course (dependent on parental income - a full grant is based on a parental income of less than £13,000). However, nation-wide, eligible students can receive up to £40 at the end of each week during term time, based on full attendance or approved absences and a parental income under £30,000 per year. Nationally bonuses for termly full attendance can be as much as £80, with a final bonus for successful completion of the course of up to £140.

  • Aims and Objectives

    In 1994 the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) established the Widening Participation Committee, chaired by Helena Kennedy QC, to advise on ways in which it could encourage more people to participate and succeed in Further Education (Kennedy, 1997). This committee commissioned the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) to investigate secondary research on financial support for students in Further Education (Herbert and Callender, 1997). The resulting reports of the FEFC (Kennedy, 1997) and the PSI (Herbert and Callender, 1997) encouraged Government interest and support for the introduction of a pilot Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). It was argued that a financial incentive may help to stop post-16 students from low-income families from potentially seeking employment after compulsory schooling, from dropping out because of financial pressures or reducing their results by taking pert-time employment to support themselves during the course (Callender and Kempson, 1996, Kennedy, 1997, Herbert and Callender, 1997).

    In light of Government concern and education research into the effects of low-income on student participation and retention (not to mention achievement), the aim of this project is:

    To identify the extent to which a financial incentive (remuneration) can improve post-16 recruitment and retention in Truro College.

    The objective of this project is:

    To evaluate the effect of the EMA on:

  • Participation in full-time Further Education courses for young people from low-income households.

  • Retention in full-time Further Education courses for young people from low-income households.

  • Strategies

    The Department for Employment and Education (DFEE) has commissioned a large-scale evaluation of the pilot EMA to assess its impact on participation, retention and achievement (Loughborough University, The Institute for Employment Research, National Centre for Social Research and the Institute of Fiscal Studies). This research will be conducted over four years and will provide the largest source of data on young people in the UK. This information will be invaluable to the analysis of financial implications to participation, retention and achievement in Further Education, especially considering that there has been little analytical research on the funding of students in Further Education (Herbert and Callender, 1997).

    Despite the DFEE implementing a national evaluation of the pilot EMA, it was decided that Truro College should develop its own strategy for monitoring and evaluating the allowances effectiveness. In conducting our own research the college was able to examine the immediate impact of the EMA on participation and retention figures, rather than waiting four years for a national analysis. Therefore the aims and objectives of this case study formed the basis of the strategy for examining the potential advantages and disadvantages of the EMA to students at Truro College.

    The strategy was met, and the aims and objectives of the case study were satisfied, through both quantitative and qualitative analysis. Quantitative data was collected on the participation and retention rates for the student Advanced Level cohorts 1998-1999 and 1999-2000. The 1998-1999 cohort acted as a base line, or control, for student participation and retention without the discretionary financial award incentive of the EMA. The 1999-2000 cohort was the first year to be given access to the EMA and was therefore used for comparative analysis (against cohort 1998-1999) to examine the effect of the EMA on participation and retention levels.

    Qualitative data was collected using semi-structured interviews based on an opportunity sample of 43 EMA recipients in Year 1 (1999-2000) of a two-year full-time Advanced Level FE course (see 'Supporting Documents' for the Interview Schedule). A pilot interview was conducted and in order to establish the final interview schedule. The researcher had intended to use a randomly stratified sample of Year One Advanced Level EMA recipients, but of the 74 selected for interview, only 10 turned up (despite two weeks notice, a reminder three days before the interview and permission to miss lessons). Consequently the final student interview sampling technique and frame emerged out of necessity, but fulfilled the criteria for the original objectives.

    The Director of Studies at Truro College was consulted throughout the primary research process, ensuring that all available information about the EMA, both within the College and throughout Cornwall, was given to the researcher. This was an important part of the strategy for monitoring the EMA, both for the support of data collection, but also in producing extra information on the effectiveness of the process, as well as the impact, of the EMA.

    Students entitled to the EMA have to demonstrate full attendance in order to receive their allowance. Lecturers complete a register of attendance for each lesson to monitor student attendance, but in the first year of the EMA students were able to self-certificate for absences by completing a form on their return. By monitoring this process, through feedback from tutors and interviews with students (qualitative research strategy noted above), it was realised that a small minority of students may have been falsely self-certificating and therefore claiming the EMA when they were missing college. Consequently at the beginning of year two of the EMA students the system was changed and students were no longer able to self-certificate, but instead had to authorise absences through their tutor. This was an important change to the process of the EMA and highlighted the importance of a monitoring strategy. It also reinforced the colleges' stand on fraudulent claims for the EMA, which in turn reinforced the importance of attendance (participation) to students (as evidenced by the data collected from the student interviews).

    Britain, unlike the United States, has no history of conducting research on the relationship between participation and student support in further education. Most British studies that have examined participation, retention and achievement in Further Education have not considered the impact of financial support, focusing instead on social class. Data collected by studies in the United States (Coleman, 1966) and Australia (Dearden and Heath, 1996) has produced quantitative analyses of large data sets to model the effects of receiving financial aid on participation and retention. For this reason it was decided that a review of literature would not be implemented as a strategy for assessing the effectiveness of the EMA in Truro College, as there would be little useful or comparative data to draw from.


    The strategy employed of monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the EMA on student participation and retention has been very useful, in that it has demonstrated that there has been a quantifiable improvement in both participation and retention in the college, which qualitative data suggests could be attributable to the introduction of the EMA.

    The quantitative analysis of College data collected between November 1st 1999 and November 1st 2000 indicates that the following improvements in student participation and retention have occurred ( also see diagram below):

  • A total increase in student participation for GCE Advanced Level of 6.25%

  • A total increase in student retention for GCE Advanced Level of 2.2%

  • A total increase in student participation for Advanced Vocational Courses of 23%

  • A total increase in student retention for Advanced Vocational Courses of 4.6%

  • A total increase in student participation for all Advanced courses of 12.75%

  • A total increase in student retention for all Advanced courses of 3.4%

  • Truro College Student Participation and Retention Rates November 1999, November 2000, Advanced Courses

     November 1999November 2000
    GCE A LEVEL Participation  430464
    VOCATIONAL A LEVELParticipation236308
    ALL ADVANCED LEVEL Participation800902

    It is clear to the researcher that a direct correlation between the improvement in student participation and retention and the introduction of the EMA cannot be assumed based on the many other factors that could influence students decisions to attend, participate in and stay at the college. This noted, however, the qualitative data collected from the student interviews demonstrates that student perceptions about the effect of the EMA on participation and retention supports the notion that knowledge of, and access to, a financial award for students from low-income families, encourages involvement in FE.

    The vast majority of students interviewed who were receiving, or who had applied for, the EMA understood its objectives. This is useful information because it demonstrates that the students equate the EMA with participation (full attendance - weekly payment), retention (commitment - end of year bonus) and achievement (results - successful completion of course bonus). This knowledge should therefore encourage optimum student attendance, commitment and results and could be used to explain improved retention rates in the college.


    The majority of EMA students did not believe that the EMA had effected their decision to attend College after Year 11. Interview data suggests that many were unaware of the EMA before starting college, or that they would have gone to college regardless of any financial incentive. However, despite the lack of influence of the EMA on initial participation in Further Education, many of the EMA students interviewed believed that the EMA (requiring full attendance to receive the weekly allowance) had had a direct effect on their attendance and participation in college activities once there. This demonstrates that the EMA can be credited with increased student participation in college activities, as well as enabling students to maintain attendance by paying for transport costs. The following students statements demonstrate that students perceive the EMA to have positive affect on attendance and participation in college activities and, perhaps even more interestingly, make a connection between these benefits and future academic achievement:

    Student 7 "…it (EMA) has made it a lot easier cause my parents haven't got a lot of money and they couldn't afford the bus fare cause if you pay…yeah it helped me go on an art trip that I really wanted to go on. It helped with my art work and also a lot of art equipment that I needed and also a couple of books and things…basically it's really helped because my parents haven't got a lot of money and I get the full 30 pounds and it does helps with my transport and my art like supplies and things yeah."

    TH: "Would you have left if it hadn't been for the EMA?"
    Student 3 "I don't think I would have left but I think my attendance would have been a lot lower and I wouldn't have learnt as much at all."

    TH: "Has it (EMA) made it easier for you to participate in things, trips or activities or?"
    Student 12 "Yeah it has I wouldn't normally have money..."
    TH: "So has it affected your attendance do you think?"
    Student 12 "Yes definitely."

    TH: "Can you think of any way in which EMA may affect your success on the course?"
    Student 22 "Well attendance mainly, taking more stuff, I probably will pass I wouldn't have passed if I didn't get the money, probably."

    Student 10 "…because you get with EMA you have to attend more lectures… um… I think the people who do attend more lectures obviously learn more, so it's good in a way cause you do get more lectures… I think the people with EMA do attend more lectures than people that don't get EMA because of forms so it's good that it does make people go to more lectures.

    TH: "So can you think of any ways in which the EMA may affect your success on the course?"
    Student 36 "Well I know that it helped my Biology course work already and that was like a major piece so it's like 20% off my course work which is important so... Um and I also, I spent a lot of it on field courses I went to Barcelona with Geography as well, cause I decided I was getting it for educational purposes, so I was going to spend it on educational purposes and in my exam one of my big 10 point essays I used the case study of where we went cause I didn't know what else to write, so it's probably given me another grade in that. So that's very good."

    TH: "So can you think of any ways in which EMA may affect your success on the course?"
    Student 21 "I think it would make me more willing to go to lectures, which would in effect give you more interest in lectures and then you should learn more and then be able to cope with assignments and exams."

    TH: "And can you think of any ways EMA may affect your success on the course?"
    Student 28 "Well I think it motivates me a lot more, it's made me realise how important college is I think, cause ever since I started going to lessons I've been like 'wow' I actually understand some more. So I mean I think before I wasn't taking it seriously, because I did quite well at comprehensive school cause I think it shouldn't be too much work, but then it was a lot more work, but then I realise how important college is so I'm quite self motivated now.


    The majority of EMA students believed that retention had not been affected by the EMA, suggesting that students were largely uninfluenced by the EMA in their decision to stay on a course. However, the data clearly displayed that the allowance enabled students to fully participate in the course and afford transport to college and may therefore have had an indirect on retention by making it easier and more attractive for them to stay in college. When asked directly if the would you have left college if it wasn't for EMA, one student responded "Probably at Christmas", indicating that retention has been improved by the EMA. On the whole it appeared that remuneration was an incentive to learn, but that financial deprivation did not generally remove the desire to learn, just the opportunity.

    The data collected from the research for this case study supported the college strategy for continued monitoring and evaluation of the EMA. It was also used to support strategies for improved participation and retention rates in the following ways:

  • Qualitative data indicated that students lacked information about the EMA in Year 11. All future marketing and liaison with feeder schools to involve information about the EMA, for both staff and students.

  • Tutors supported in new authorising of absences for student absences through INSET, thereby enabling them to reinforce the importance of attendance, which in turn could improve participation and retention rates.

  • Tutors involved in evaluation of the EMA through Team Meetings and semi-structured interviews, thereby empowering them and making them more likely to become fully involved in the EMA process.

  • Tutors to be given regular information sheet on results of EMA monitoring and evaluation, which, if appropriate, can be fed back to students. Positive findings should encourage both staff and students. Negative findings will demonstrate the importance of constant monitoring and evaluation of the EMA.

  • Key Learning Points

    This key issue surrounding a case study of this nature is the need for financial support. The research conducted would not have been possible without the funding provided by FEDA. Data collection is time consuming and in Further Education 'time is money', which necessitates a relatively large budget if any qualitative data is to be collected. My study relied heavily on qualitative data to add validity to the speculative quantitative data, as well as adding reflexivity to the whole research. Therefore I would suggest that researchers in Further Education should be entitled to the same remuneration considerations as Higher Education researchers.

    I would recommend this strategy of monitoring and evaluation to any other college that is part of the EMA pilot scheme. The national evaluation will only offer a general overview to colleges of the impact of the EMA, specific data will have to be gathered individually. Listening to the students through semi-structured questionnaires reveals so much more about the effectiveness and impact of implemented policies (those monitoring and evaluating Key Skills take note) than bald figures collected by the college administration could ever do.

    Next Steps

    The college has embarked on a longitudinal study of the EMA, tracking the 1998 Advanced Level cohort for two years through questionnaires and interviews and by interviewing EMA Tutors. This study will enable the effects of the EMA on achievement, as well as participation and retention, to be examined. This data will then be used to influence staff INSET and EMA processes to ensure that improved participation, retention and achievement are maintained.

    This case study had reinforced the importance of reflection on practice and the need for a clear and organised strategy for the monitoring and evaluation of new policies in the college.

    Contact Details

    Tanya Hope
    Truro College
    College Road
    TR1 3XX

    Telephone: 01872 264251
    Telephone: (direct line) 01872 267091
    Fax: 01872 222360

    Supporting Documents


    Statement: Interview with student number …… on …… June 2000.

    The identity of the student is strictly confidential.

    Information collected from this interview will form part of a research paper for national distribution.

    1. Tell me as much as you can about the Educational Maintenance Allowance.

    (PROMPTS: What is the EMA? What are you entitled to receive from the EMA? Who gets the EMA? How is the EMA paid?)

    2. In what ways did the EMA affect your decision to go on to a full-time course in Further Education?

    (PROMPTS: Did the knowledge of receiving a cash payment make it easier for you to attend college? Was the possibility of cash and college better than employment?)

    3. In what ways has receiving the EMA affected you as a student?

    (PROMPTS: Has the EMA made you attendance better? Would you have left college if it wasn't for the EMA? Has the EMA made it easier to participate in college trips and activities?

    4. Can you think of any ways in which the EMA may affect your success on the course?

    (PROMPTS: Do you think the EMA affects achievement? Has it made you more determined to succeed on the course? How could the EMA affect your performance in the exam or during coursework?)

    5. Would you like to make any final comments about the EMA?

    STATEMENT: Thank you for your time, I may be in touch next year for a follow up interview.