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More than 380,000 teens are paid to learn

More than a third of a million teenagers have been paid to study since the start of the September term under the Government's education maintenance allowance scheme, according to the latest figures.

The figures were released by the Learning and Skills Council as Maria Eagle, minister for children, young people and families, urged more eligible students to claim the grants of between pound;10 and pound;30 a week.

She said: "I urge all young people who may feel tempted to drop out into low-paid work to get in touch with their local college and enquire about available courses."

The scheme is aimed at teenagers who come from households earning less than pound;30,000 a year.

Trevor Fellows, director of learner support at the Learning and Skills Council, said: "We are extremely pleased that more than 380,000 students are receiving EMAs. Many of these people wouldn't have had the means to continue in education or training after GCSEs.

"We would expect this number to increase throughout 2006."

The money is available to 16 and 17-year-olds studying at colleges or schools and does not lead to other family benefits being reduced. It is available for vocational or academic courses.

The money is paid directly into their bank accounts.

The scheme has proved a headache for colleges which have complained about the red tape involved in confirming students' attendance on courses.

More than two-thirds of EMA recipients come from families whose household income is less than pound;20,000-a-year.

The EMA scheme went national in 2004 after being trialled on a smaller scale the previous year.

Increasing the number of students in the 16-19 age group is one of the Government's priorities for college funding, alongside adult basic skills and getting adults to their first level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) qualification.

The Government guarantees to provide a place in full-time education or work-based training for all 16 to 19-year-olds.

A recent LSC analysis of college spending plans forecasts that the steady rise in 16 to 19-year-old students is set to continue this year, although it predicts that the number of adults on non-priority courses will continue to drop.

The number of 16 to 19-year-olds in full-time education is likely to reach 626,203 in 200708 compared with 573,337 in 200405 - a 9.2 per cent increase. The number of adult students is set to fall by nearly 5 per cent.

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