WEEKLY grants are being paid to thousands of adults in the first phase of a scheme to help those with low qualifications.
The new adult learning grants, first announced in the Government's skills White Paper, are being tried out in 10 areas of England - where up to 12,000 people will get pound;30 a week in pilots run by the Department for Education and Skills. The money is available to people aged 19 to 30 studying full-time in colleges.
Ivan Lewis, the skills minister, said: "The new adult learning grant is a major step in helping those who might not have succeeded in their initial education but are serious about wanting to get the qualifications they need for their future careers. The scheme would provide a "route into a better life".
Grants will go to adults on low incomes who are studying to level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) and have less than the equivalent of five GCSEs.
The scheme also targets those studying at level 3 (A-level equivalent) who hold less than the equivalent of two A-levels.
The 10 local learning and skills council areas are Bedfordshire, the Black Country, County Durham, Devon amp; Cornwall, Humberside, Lancashire, Leicestershire, London West, Shropshire and South Yorkshire.
Ultimately the scheme is expected to benefit 90,000 people when it is introduced nationally.
The grants are means-tested: they will be paid in full to people earning less than pound;11,500 and there will be a minimum of pound;10-a-week for those earning up to pound;19,000. Payments may be reduced if the learner lives with a wage-earner.
With intermediate-level skills seen as increasingly important in the UK economy, there are high hopes for the learning grants scheme at the LSC, which will have to administer it.
Along with the scrapping of the upper age limit for modern apprenticeships, the grants are seen as a way of attracting older recruits into skilled jobs.
A number of industry sectors, including engineering, are discovering they increasingly need to recruit from this age group.
Bryan Sanderson, LSC chairman of the Learning and Skills Council, said:
"This will give adults the flying start they need to get back into education for free. Learning more means earning more for individuals and UK plc.
"The LSC will work in partnership to lead the delivery of the Government's skills strategy. "The adult learner grants pilots signal the start of the skills revolution."