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pound;50m to boost training grants

Students on unwaged training programmes funded by the Government will be able to claim an educational maintenance allowance of up to pound;30 per week from next April.

It is expected a further 65,000 16 to 19-year-olds will be eligible to claim, adding pound;50 million to the pound;400m annual cost of the allowance.

The move is designed to make the training option as accessible as the A-level or vocational education route for students aged 16.

It will gradually replace the pound;40-a-week minimum training allowance (MTA) currently available to young people on work-based training. But it will mean their families will be better off because EMA grants will not affect other benefits.

The Learning and Skills Council is holding roadshows in nine towns to explain the extension of the EMA to colleges, training organisations, and to students.

Trevor Fellowes, director of learner support for the LSC, said the extension will create a level playing field between training courses and education courses.

He said: "It will mean that young people will make an unbiased choice about what is the right learning route for them, without being concerned about the effect their choice will have on their mum's housing benefit.

He highlighted the case of the mother of a student in Cornwall who will be pound;600 a month better off by claiming the EMA.

"By claiming the pound;40-a-week MTA payment, the girl's mother was no longer able to claim child benefit, she lost her income support and housing benefit, and her estranged father was no longer required to pay support,"

he said.

"But EMAs are paid on top of all other benefits and can make a huge difference to families.

"It means young people's choices won't be constrained by financial reasons or by family pressures. EMA provides freedom to choose the right learning, whereas the old system distorted young people's choices."

Students on entry to employment programmes will be entitled to EMA payments, as will those on programme-led pathways (PLP) courses, due to begin next April.

PLP enables young people who want to do apprenticeships but have not secured a position with an employer to do the college- based part of the course in advance.

Young people living independently and on income support can also receive EMA payments, providing a personal package of pound;74.05 a week.

EMAs became available to students nationwide last September after a successful five-year pilot.

Mr Fellowes added: "Both Lewisham college in London and Wyke college in Hull have reported that attendance and achievement levels have increased by up to 3 per cent, with EMA a major contributor to these figures.

"This year we expect to be paying EMA to 400,000 young people at college and school.

"The participation rate for 16- year-olds in full-time education at the end of 2004 was 73.3 per cent, the highest ever figure. And many more young people are consistently attending their courses."

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