Education & Family

Joe Cotton's EMA speech at NUT conference gets ovation

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionWatch: Joe Cotton asked delegates to help keep education 'accessible and affordable'

A 15-year-old boy was given a standing ovation at a teachers' conference after his speech on the axing of the education maintenance allowance (EMA).

Joe Cotton urged the National Union of Teachers to do all they could to keep education "affordable and accessible".

The GCSE student, from Calder High School, Yorkshire, said scrapping the EMA did not make economic sense.

The government is replacing the scheme to keep poorer pupils in education with what it says is a more targeted grant.

But the weekly allowance of up to £30 was closed to new applicants in a cost-saving government measure.

Joe, from Hebden Bridge, told the 1,100-strong NUT conference in Harrogate: "Like many other people, recent events have made me really aware of the effects that political decisions can have on my life.

"At the moment, education as we know it is under threat.

"Despite pledges and promises, tuition fees are trebling and vital schemes like SureStart and the educational maintenance allowance are being axed.

"Today, I'd like to stress how important it is that the EMA at least is protected."

He added: "In the words of Nadine, one of the 650,000 college students who currently receive it; 'EMA means I can go to college. Without it I just couldn't manage'."

He claimed that the EMA replacement announced last month was receiving £400m less funding and added: "Well I don't know how nifty Michael Gove thinks he can be with a loaf and some fishes, or even a bus pass and some text books, but he's going to need nothing short of a miracle to replicate the benefits of the EMA with that budget."

To applause from the floor, the teenager added: "I believe that if even one student is unable to continue education based on their family's income and not their ability, then the government has failed in its responsibility to uphold basic rights to education."

After he finished speaking, NUT general secretary Christine Blower took to the stage to congratulate him saying: "Now that's what comprehensive education can do."

And he was given a standing ovation by the delegates.

Image caption School pupils have protested against the scrapping of the EMA

Speaking to reporters after the speech, Joe said he was invited by a member of the NUT executive to speak at the conference after he spoke at a rally in Halifax.

He admitted he enjoyed the attention of public speaking and that he wanted to be a teacher, but had also considered a career in politics.

Joe predicted that many young people would be politicised by the cuts and changes to the education system.

He said politicians had their "heads in the clouds" if they thought scrapping the EMA and trebling university fees would not deter young people from staying on in education.

His mother Sarah Cotton said she was proud her son had made the effort to get himself fully informed about the issues.

James Mills, from the Save EMA campaign, said Joe had shown "a knowledge and understanding of the importance of EMA".

"It's a shame that Joe and many hundreds of thousands of young people like him will now find getting an education in this country is something that is harder than it was before," he said.

"The young people who rely on the payments know how vital they are; it seems only Michael Gove is ignorant of the benefits of EMA."

Under the government's new £180m scheme some 12,000 teenagers with the greatest need will receive up to £1,200 per year. These include pupils in care, care leavers and the severely disabled.

After these payments, there will be £165m for colleges and schools to make discretionary payments to support low-income students with costs such as transport, food and books.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We are providing targeted financial support for the most vulnerable 16-19 year-olds.

"£180m will be available for a new bursary fund - enough to ensure that every child eligible for free school meals who chooses to stay on could be paid £800 per year.

"This is more than many receive under the current EMA arrangements."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites