The Henley College

The Fight to Save EMA


EMA is the latest target in the government's ongoing war on the poor and students

As I write this, a debate is going on in the House of Commons. It might not at first seem an important debate in the same way that, say, the debate on raising tuition fees was. But in this writer’s opinion, it absolutely is. The debate I’m referring to is, of course, the debate on the future of EMAs.

EMAs, for the uninitiated, are Education Maintenance Allowances. This is a payment of up to £30  per week given to further education students from poor backgrounds, to encourage and assist them in studying further. A fairly simple measure, I think, and one of the best policies that the last Labour government instigated.

The current issue being debated is the scrapping of that scheme. The government seems to be continuing its war on students. So many of the cuts that have so far been announced are going to hit young people the hardest. From the headline measures such as tuition fee rises and the cancellation of the BSF programme, to more behind the scenes cuts like the closure of the hugely successful Connexions centres. All of this whilst the bankers, who caused the economic woes that we’ve suffered recently and are still feeling the effects of, get off scott free.

I’ve seen a lot of misinformation bandied around lately by Tory supporters about EMAs. The most common seems to be that it bribes 16-18 year olds to go to school. My suspicion is that this comes from relatively well-off people.

I attended the Henley College, in Henley-on-Thames, which sounds a lot posher than it actually is. I myself didn’t qualify for EMA, but plenty of my fellow students did, and for those students it was less about bribery than it was about enabling them to attend. For a college with the wide geographic range of students like Henley College, transport was an issue. At further education level, there is no free provision of transport. And it can get damned expensive (God knows that mine was). For many students, EMAs were a lifeline which enabled them to actually get to college in order to study.

Aside from that, there are other costs in associated with studying beyond GCSE, which are difficult to meet if your family cannot foot the bill. Food, stationary, equipment. All of it costs money, which EMAs were designed to meet and help with. Taking that away, restricting it in order to save money at the expense of the poorest sectors of society, cannot be justified as anything other than a regressive move.

I could write about this all day, but instead I’ll finish with a couple of quotes:

Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.‘ -Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, in an interview with the Guardian in March 2o10.

I said we don’t have any plans to get rid of them … it’s one of those things the Labour Party keep putting out that we are but we’re not.‘ -David Cameron, Prime Minister, at a “Cameron Direct” event in January 2010.

The Lib Dems betrayed students and broke their pledge on tuition fees. Now the Tories are doing the same with EMAs. There is no difference, it’s just as regressive, just as harmful to the futures of students, and should be resisted just as hard.

Coming out of Retirement


A long time ago, when the world was a far sweeter and more innocent place (or at least my perception of it was), I wrote a novel. It probably wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but I was quite proud of it at the time.

 

Inspiration really does rear it's head from the strangest of places.

 

Looking back on it, I still am to a degree. I was sixteen at the time, and I don’t think I made an entirely bad job of it. Yes, it’s awfully trite in a lot of places, and yes my utter lack of Spanish skills probably should have made me think twice before setting a novel in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, and I probably should have been paying attention to my IB History lessons rather than creating fiction. But I was proud of having managed to pump out a 70k, original historical vampire story, and even prouder that parts of it seemed not to suck.

It did get a single round of editing, but after that it ended up in that place so familiar to manuscripts: the bottom of a pile of crap on the desk. I don’t really know why I didn’t do anything with it. I knew that it needed work (a good deal, probably), but it wasn’t that which put me off. It just sort of faded out of my life, probably partly helped along with the furore over Twilight, and the inevitable march of the capitalist press-ganged clones that followed.

But recently (i.e. this weekend), my thoughts have returned to it. This is, I think, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the extremely gifted A.E. Grace has just finished the first draft of her first childrens novel, which I was fortunate enough to read. I won’t say much about it, because it isn’t really my place to, but it was brilliant and her enthusiasm in a longer-length piece and her excitement at having finished the first draft have infected me with the novel writer’s bug again. Maybe.

The second reason comes back to one of the original inspirations for writing the damn thing in the first place. In the aforementioned History class, on the International Baccalaureate Diploma programme at The Henley College (not as posh as it might sound; most of the money and snobbery in the area tends to decamp to Eton and the like for education), I studied the Spanish Civil War. It’s a fascinating area of history, and provides an interesting and oft-ignored context to the Second World War, which began the same year as the Spanish conflict started.

In this class, my imagination was captured by lecturer Robin Milne’s descriptions of the conflict, and in particular by a film we were shown as part of the class. This film depicted a young Liverpudlian leftist, who left home to fight the fascists in Spain, and who saw firsthand the events that unfolded. This was the basis for a lot of what I wrote, but I never actually found out the name of the film.

The other day, on a very helpful forum of which I am a part, a member mentioned a film which seemed to match very closely what I had seen about four years ago. Fortunately this was a far more erudite scholar than I, and he actually knew the name of it (which, to be fair, I might have found if I had actually been bothered to look). It was, of course, Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom.

So now it’s on my LoveFilm list, and will hopefully be soon in my DVD player, ready to re-inspire me. Then, armed with a red pen, a

 

Time to go to work...

 

pair of shears and four years more experience (including the experience to ask someone else to help me with the foreign language parts), hopefully I can make something worthwhile of it.

And if not, I’ll at least have seen Land and Freedom again.

(Correction: with thanks to Mr Ben Denton, the Second World War began the year the Spanish Civil War ended, rather than started. Apologies for that embarrassing little slip! Cheers Ben!)