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Bonuses don't meet all needs

Three in five Scottish students who received educational maintenance allowances last year qualified for both the pound;150 bonus payments available for good attendance, achievement, progression and behaviour.

New statistics for 2004-05, published this week, show that 62 per cent of all students received bonus payments in January and June - but 14 per cent who attended for the entire year received nothing .

Altogether, 23,650 youngsters received payments in the last academic year.

Of this total, 19,540 are aged 16 - around 29 per cent of all 16-year-olds in Scotland.

The scheme was piloted in four local authorities prior to August 2004 when all 16-year-olds became eligible. In the pilot areas, young people aged 16, 17 and 18 are currently eligible, In the remaining 28 local authorities, eligibility will extend to 17 and 18-year-olds in the coming two years.

Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, and a former headteacher in East Ayrshire, one of the pilot areas, said that he was "reasonably cheerful" about the 62 per cent figure for of those who received the bonuses.

However, Mr McGregor called for better guidelines on the regulation of absence and eligibility. He pointed out that weekly means-tested payments of pound;10, pound;20 and pound;30 are only paid if the pupil or college student has attended for the whole week. However, different schools had different requirements when it came to non-attendance through illness. In addition, some doctors were happy to sign sick notes, some refused and some charged.

Some young people who had part-time jobs found it difficult to attend full-time education when supermarkets insisted they worked certain weekdays in the run-up to Christmas if they wanted to keep their jobs.

Mr McGregor added that the jury was still out on whether allowances were encouraging more young people to stay on. "Take-up and return rates were increasing anyway, but the EMAs can do no harm," he said.

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