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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 March, 2004, 03:59 GMT
'Earn-to-learn' scheme pays off
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online education staff

Eon Wallace
Eon Wallace says the grant provides a weekly incentive to keep studying
Cash is proving to be a persuasive way of keeping youngsters in education - with a weekly maintenance grant set to be extended across the country.

A pilot scheme has been giving teenagers 30 a week while they study A-levels and vocational qualifications.

There could also be a bonus of 100 for students who complete a course.

Chancellor Gordon Brown's pre-Budget statement in December said allowances would be extended from September 2004 - initially reaching 290,000 youngsters in England and Scotland.

Students who have taken part in the pilot scheme say that it makes the difference between staying on and dropping out of education.

The conditions for receiving the money mean that if a student misses a single lesson, they lose all their weekly payment.

Drop-out rate

Britain has a longstanding problem with a high drop-out rate - with one of the poorest records in the developed world for youngsters staying in education beyond the age of 16.

Wahida Choudhury
Wahida Choudhury says the payments mean less financial pressure on parents

At the weekend, the Prime Minister Tony Blair repeated the ambition that more students should stay in education beyond 16, so that the leaving age became "irrelevant".

And the EMA scheme, first introduced in less well-off areas, is an attempt to find incentives that can really keep youngsters in education.

Eon Wallace, an 18 year old who is already benefiting from the grant, says that it really does make a difference.

Studying for A-levels at Lewisham College, a further education college in south London, he says that it "keeps me going to lessons, makes me keep up".

The college serves a deprived, inner-city area, and he says that where there is less money "there is more pressure from families for young people to go to work".

Independence

"Some people see college as a waste of time - and say that we should go straight into a job. But this money means that we're not depending on our families so much. My family is impressed that I'm staying on in education."

Cash
In London, the means tested weekly allowances are between 5 and 30

Eon Wallace wants to carry on further - with plans to go to university - and he says that the support of a grant is an important part of that process.

He recognises that some of his peer group have rejected education - "30 wouldn't be enough for their lifestyle" - but he says that in the longer-term, he expects to gain from staying on.

Wahida Choudhury, a 16 year old who is studying for AS-levels, also says that the payment makes a real difference - more than the amount might suggest.

She says that she would have stayed in education anyway - but the grant means not having to have a job as well and it makes it much more likely that she'll stay the course until the end of A-levels.

"This gives us money for travel to college, something for clothes and text books. It would be harder for our parents if we didn't have it."

Incentive

And reflecting a growing pattern, she says that she will be applying for university places in London, rather than going away from home to study.

Both Wahida and Eon say that they would recommend the scheme and they say that the actual amount is less important than the weekly incentive of the direct payment.

"It's a good addition for the whole community," says Eon, commenting on how it encourages young people to get out of the cycle of low qualifications and unskilled, badly-paid employment.

But both of them are critical of how the scheme is administered, saying that it is overly-bureaucratic and slow.

Apart from needing a bank account to receive the payments, they say the application process is so cumbersome that some students give up and drop out of education altogether.

The EMA scheme is aimed at students who are above the school leaving age and is a way of encouraging youngsters to carry on training rather than leaving education with few qualifications.

At Lewisham College, there are 16,000 student enrolments, drawn from the type of less well-off communities that have had the highest drop-out rates from education.

These grants, paid straight to the student, have been piloted in over 50 different areas, with a number of different models being tested. Some offer a higher rate of 40 per week.

The payments are means-tested. The pilot scheme in a number of London boroughs provides the 30 limit for families with household income below 13,000, with lower levels of support available to families with incomes between 13,000 and 20,000.




SEE ALSO:
Brown bullish despite 37bn deficit
10 Dec 03  |  Politics
40 a week to stay in education
02 Jul 02  |  Education
Fewer teenagers are 'staying on'
02 Jul 02  |  Education
Pupils keen to be paid for learning
02 Jun 00  |  Education


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