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Payments for staying at school extended

A pound;50 million expansion of educational maintenance allowances has been announced, reports

EDUCATIONAL maintenance allowances will be extended to 100,000 school-leavers after pilot schemes showed improved rates of students staying on at school.

Sixteen to 19-year-olds in 40 areas can claim the allowances - weekly payments of up to pound;30 - from September. The areas include 16 London boroughs, large parts of Merseyside, the west Midlands, north-east England, Greater Manchester, Yorkshire and Humberside as well as Luton, Leicester and Suffolk.

Figures from the Careers Service show that in the 15 pilot areas the staying-on rate was 3 per cent higher than in comparable parts of the country.

Announcing the pound;50 million expansion of the allowances during the second reading of the Learning and Skills Bill, David Blunkett, Secretary of State, said that they had been shown to improve student attendance. He said: "It is important to tackle those areas of the country where staying on in education is not a tradition and there is no culture of continuing learning."

As the Bill began its passage through the House of Commons, Mr Blunkett made it clear that he intended to overturn controversial amendments made in the House of Lords on sex education and the rights of parents to hold ballots over grammar-school admissions.

He said that, subject to consultation, the guidance on sex and relationship education, included in the Bill, would go out to schools - despite being rejected by the Lords. "We cannot accept something in the Bill that deliberately eliminates efforts in schools to reduce prejudice and misunderstanding."

"The original objective of the proposals in the Bill was precisely to underpin the reassurance sought by many in the country that we were not promoting forms of sexual orientation in the classroom. We are not doig that, as the guidance makes clear."

Mr Blunkett also announced a further pound;15m for capital expenditure to upgrade facilities and disabled access in colleges and pound;18m for 16 to 19-year-olds in colleges to keep pace with increased funding for schools, announced by Chancellor Gordon Brown in last week's Budget.

Winding up a five-and-a-half-hour debate, Conservative education spokesman Tim Boswell said that the Bill was "a recipe for failure" that threatened school sixth forms and would be "buried under a pile of bureaucracy".

He predicted that added bureaucracy would leave college staff with little time for teaching, that the 40 per cent representation of businesses on the new learning and skills councils was a "notional and uncertain commitment" unlikely to get a "positive response" and that the Connexions youth advice network for 13 to 19-year-olds could amount to "a service for the socially excluded".

But replying for the Government, Malcolm Wicks, the lifelong learning minister, said that the Bill was "a new policy for a new century".

He said the Government intended to "break down the unnecessary barriers between different funding and planning regimes, which are a recipe for confusion, waste and lost opportunity", and replace them with a single system for all post-16 learning.

He rejected Opposition accusations of centralism, saying that the pound;50m saved by cutting bureaucracy would be spent on "frontline learning". Connexions would offer "proper advice and guidance" but would have a "special focus on the most disadvantaged".

He accused the Conservatives of "gross scaremongering" over the future of school sixth forms and said that, while the Government would defend good sixth forms, it would take action when they fell "well short of the standards of education that young people need to succeed".

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