Bonus to learn

30th March 2001 at 01:00
Three cheers for the extension of the pound;40 a week allowance to encourage 16-year-olds to stay on at school. It is only a pity that the scheme, which was born in East Ayrshire, is not immediately going national. But even the three-year pilots in Glasgow, Dundee and West Dunbartonshire will cost the Executive more than pound;21 million. It will be social inclusion money well spent.

There has always been an anomaly in that higher education students receive support, albeit in the form of loans. Ministers have just announced that further education students are to have the same maintenance package. But there is a gap at the top end of school when young people (and their parents) have to weigh up the advantages and feasibility of staying on for Highers or other qualifications. In the old days thousands of bright boys and grls left early to find a job which would contribute to the family income. Fewer now face the dilemma, but two problems remain.

About a third of pupils still leave at the first opportunity and thus deny themselves the chance of qualifications likely to lead to a good career. An unknown number are responding to the economic imperative. Second, there are 16 to 18-year-olds who stay in education but have to take on too many hours' employment for the welfare of their studies.

A weekly subsidy plus incentives to attend and perform well should encourage staying-on rates in deprived areas. With fewer young people drifting into dead-end jobs or unemployment, the investment will bring social as well as economic benefits. En route, the potential of Higher Still at all its levels will be better exploited.

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