Page last updated at 09:57 GMT, Monday, 19 April 2004 10:57 UK

Q&A: Education maintenance allowance

college students
EMAs are worth up to 30 a week to those learning post-16

A scheme offering payments of up to 30 a week for young people to keep studying beyond the age of 16 has been hit by administrative problems.

The government introduced the Education Maintenance Allowance to improve the relatively low rate of people staying in education.

So what does the scheme involve?

Payments of 10, 20 or 30 a week depending on household income for those who are on eligible courses such as GCSEs, A or AS-levels, BTecs, NVQs or Basic Skills courses.

These means testing income bands are most generous in Scotland, where the upper limit for the 10 payment is 32,316 a year.

In Wales and Northern Ireland it is 31,580. In England it is 30,810.

In addition, students who attend regularly and satisfy their teachers about their progress can qualify for bonuses of 150 in Scotland and 100 elsewhere in the UK.

The money is paid direct into students' bank accounts.

How is household income calculated?

Not all income is factored in to the means testing.

For example where a student's parents no longer live together, any maintenance paid by the non-resident parent does not count.

Nor does a student's own income count unless they are living independently, so they can work part-time while studying.

Does EMA affect benefit payments?

No, it is in addition to other support.

It does not even affect parents' Child Benefit, or any Care to Learn funding a student gets.

But you will not be entitled to EMA if you have a Dance and Drama Award, even if you are also studying for A-levels.

Do EMAs work?

Pilot studies suggested they would. In England EMAs were tested in various forms by 56 of the 150 local education authorities - in some cases for several years.

Staying-on rates improved, according to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Loughborough University.

Overall, they were up 5.9 percentage points among those who were eligible for the grants.

Education ministers like to cite the increased uptake of the allowances as evidence of success.

Schools Minister Andrew Adonis told a House of Lords debate in April: "The numbers continue to increase. ... 540,000 students are in receipt of education maintenance allowances - an increase on 430,000 only two years ago."

But as the scheme was rolled out from 16-year-olds upwards, two years ago the 18-year-olds were not eligible.

The target group - youngsters not in employment, education or training (Neets) - peaked in 2005 and has fallen a little since but is still, official statisticians say, "not far off the long run average" at an estimated 9.4% of those aged 16 to 18 in England.

The Conservatives' shadow schools secretary Michael Gove has characterised EMAs, costing more than 500m a year, as an expensive flop - though his party also said it would not scrap the payments.

In Wales last year, 82% of the 29,410 approved applications were from students entitled to the maximum 30 per week.

There, the proportion of Neet young people has remained fairly steady at about 10% to 12% for a decade. In Scotland it is a little higher.

The Welsh Assembly Government intends conducting a full evaluation of the EMA scheme.

Existing research on the subject suggests EMAs have most impact on young men from poorer homes.

There appears to be no significant effect however on attainment - the level of qualifications the young people have after staying on.

Isn't the education leaving age being raised anyway?

It is in England, initially to 17 then to 18 - though this is nothing like full-time schooling, just some element of training.

Lord Adonis has assured Parliament that EMAs will continue anyway.

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