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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Students back 'stay-on grants'
Computing student
Computing student Sobia Asghar likes the scheme
Students who get grants to stay on in education and training applaud the idea of making the scheme a national one.

But not everyone is happy, because of the means testing.

Education maintenance allowances (EMAs) are being tried out in various forms in 56 areas.

Young people in families earning up to 30,000 are paid on a sliding scale from 5 to 30 a week - or 40 in some cases - to stay on beyond the compulsory age of 16.

Southampton City College student Sobia Asghar, who is in the second year of a BTec national diploma in computing, said the link was very direct.

Basics paid for

"I have to come in every single day and our teacher records it all and passes it to the EMA people," she said. No attendance, no allowance.

"It helps me quite a lot, like with books and stationery and stuff like that - all my everyday needs for my course.

sixth former
Judy Archer: "Good for the country for people to go to college"
"I would still have come to college but I would be struggling, so it would be a bit hard without the EMA."

Judy Archer, taking A-levels in psychology, history and theatre studies at Tauntons sixth form college, is another EMA recipient.

She found the demands of the course - especially doing four AS-levels in her first year - such that it was difficult to find the time to do part-time work.

"I know a lot of people dropped out of their jobs," she said.

But sixth formers at Allerton High School in Leeds have sent a petition to the education secretary suggesting that a better idea would be to reward students who achieve their predicted exam grades.

One of the signatories, Hannah Polard, said EMAs were fine for those who got them but were unfair on someone like herself, who was denied the money because of her parents' income.

'Proper pilot scheme'

Malcolm Walters, head of student support services at Teesside Tertiary College - in one of the first EMA pilot areas - welcomed the chancellor's decision to expand the EMA scheme nationally.

"The advantages of the EMA scheme has been a big increase in post-16 staying-on rates and it has widened participation among certain under-represented groups," he said.

"It's also helped attendance and achievement because students only get the money if they complete their assignments - a carrot and stick approach, if you like."

Mr Walters applauded the government for piloting the scheme "properly".

"They've evaluated it quite heavily and have at least got research to back up what they're doing."

But he said the scheme must be properly funded "on the ground" and urged government to give colleges and sixth form colleges some money towards administering it.

It works

The research on the impact of the EMA pilots has been done for the Department for Education and Skills by a consortium led by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University.

Its director, Sue Middleton, said their estimate had been that if the scheme did go national it would lead to a rise of 5.9 percentage points in the staying on rate among those eligible for the funds, or 3.8 percentage points of the whole age group.

The young people were using the money for all kinds of things but mainly for their educational expenses, she said.

Some were even saving up the allowance to spend on higher education.

"They express a feeling of independence - not having to be quite so dependent on their parents," she said.

Impact on boys

Lorraine Dearden of the Institute for Fiscal Studies is crunching the numbers.

She said the allowances had raised the staying on rate in the pilot areas from 65% to 72%.

The biggest impact was on boys - especially those getting the full entitlement, so whose family income was less than 13,000.

One variation on the allowance, in which the money was paid to mothers rather than directly to the young people themselves, was the least effective.

"I guess when they see the money directly it impacts on their decisions," Dr Dearden said.

"If you want to influence kids' behaviour its much better paying it to the kids."

Bonuses of 80 a term for good attendance, and of up to 140 for achieving learning targets, had raised the staying on rate in the second year of the scheme by five percentage points.

The government's plans for future spending are published on 15 July

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See also:

02 Jul 02 | UK Education
02 Jun 00 | UK Education
23 Apr 02 | UK Education
28 Jan 99 | UK Education
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