Bribery is paying off in East Ayrshire and is spreading to Glasgow, Dundee and West Dunbartonshire in a pound;21.6 million learning scam.
Students in their final years of secondary and first years of college are taking the Government shilling and promising to conduct themselves in an educational manner. They have pledged to attend regularly, study harder, raise their grades and aim for college or university.
Wendy Alexander, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, on Monday announced an extension to the educational maintenance allowance (EMA) scheme that pays students from low-income families up to pound;40 a week to remain in education and which has been piloted for 18 months in East Ayrshire.
Education was now even more important as a passport to success in later life, Ms Alexander said. Girls with no qualifications would lose pound;1 million over a lifetime in work compared to graduates while the figure for boys was only slightly less.
"By the time men are 40, they earn 60 per cent more if they stayed in education and got Highers. It's not just about earning more," she told pupils at St Roch's Secondary in Glasgow. "If you don't have qualifications you have only a 50-50 chance of being in work. If you have a university education you have more than a 95 per cent chance of being in work. It's not just good for individuals but good for Scotland."
Ms Alexander said a third of leavers still quit school at 16 and in Glasgow only 53 per cent of pupils stayed on beyond S4. These figures underlined the need to persuade those from families with incomes under pound;25,000 to apply for the allowances. She expects a further 7,500 young people will benefit from the expansion over the next three years - more than one in 10 of the S5-S6 population.
But she declined to say if other students across Scotland would benefit in time. Brian Monteith, the Conservative education spokesman, labelled the extension a pre-election bribe to Labour heartlands and said the money would be better spent on abolishing university tuition fees.
But East Ayrshire secondary heads insist the council's pound;1.3 million scheme has proved its worth, although attainment figures for S5 and S6 tudents will not show through until the autumn.
Attendance figures have been increased by up to 4 per cent among students who set up their own bank accounts to receive maintenance cash. Unlike the former bursary scheme, payments are to young people and not their parents.
Brigid Rooney, head of St Joseph's Academy, Kilmarnock, said: "Students do not get money for nothing. They have to work for it."
Key aspects were personal responsibility, money management and life skills. Study support, Mrs Rooney said, had been undermined by the need to work after school.
Derek Mathieson, head of Stewarton Academy, said: "It's made a big difference to part-time jobs. There are not so many leaving at 3.30 and going down to work in the local corner store or chip shop in the evenings and that should bring about a rise in attainment. More are taking part in extracurricular activities."
Mrs Rooney said students were following more ambitious courses as a result because they feel a college or university place is achievable.
East Ayrshire pays the allowance to 610 students, one in three of the S5-S6 population. The average weekly payment is pound;33 but 58 per cent take home the maximum pound;40.
Almost half (46 per cent) of the senior pupils at Doon Academy, Dalmellington, receive the allowance against 20 per cent at Grange Academy in Kilmarnock. Some 74 per cent decide to remain in education, returning for a sixth year or taking a college or university course .
Leader, page 18
'IT'S AN AMAZING HELP'
Robbie Conacher, a fifth-year St Joseph's student, is a typical maintenance allowance target. His single-parent mum is a student, he has a younger brother in primary and his home needs the cash.
He works at a garden centre at weekends on the minimum wage but now he can give up thoughts of an after-school job. "It's an amazing help and I do not know how I would carry on without it. I can contribute to the family income," he said.
Fellow S5 student Natalie Ford says that with her father unable to work the allowance is invaluable. She works in a bakers on Saturday but has been able to forget after-school jobs to focus on her studies.