Don't sniff at the pound;150 hand-outs available to all. They're ideal for training, writes Jill Parkin
When you first hear about individual learning accounts (ILAs), you tend to treat the news as you might treat those gold-scripted envelopes that come through the door saying, "You have definitely won a prize."
Lifelong learning, like so many Blair buzzwords, can make you feel just a little jaded. If you get as far as consulting the ILA website, you may well be put off by the introduction, which explains that this site has been provided particularly for those "who haven't done much learning before". It then goes on to explain the help available in relation to a range of plumbing and electrical courses.
But it's worth digging a little deeper into this card-holder scheme, which offers 80 per cent off specific courses up to pound;200 in a year and 20 per cent off a wider range up to pound;100 a year. Everyone is eligible and while it's not a fortune it's a useful top-up if you think New Opportunities Fund money isn't enough and Becta, the Government's schools' computer advisory body, could be better.
The full 80 per cent discount applies to a specific list of information technology and maths courses. You don't have to get the qualification to get the money. The list includes courses for GCSE, Pitman, Btec, GNVQ, and City and Guilds.
There's a much broader choice of 20 per cent discount courses, but even that may not be as broad as you would like. The website very po-facedly rules out skiing and flying lessons and most, though not all, diving lessons. Among the other excluded courses are those that carry professional qualifications and all forms of higher education.
But learning account funds can be used towards course costs. This includes fees for registration, exams, assessment, accreditation, books and other materials, but not computer hardware. You may find you can get funding for A-level study, which may be professionally useful or just personally satisfying.
The account funding is especially useful in the case of primary school teachers who find themselves suddenly responsible for parts of the curriculum that are new to them.
You need to be 19 or over and you need to have an account number before you book your course. You don't get the money cash-in-hand. Instead, you are are given an account card which means the course provider can charge you for your part of the fee and claim the discounted part direct.
The discount is for the learner, not for an employer who may be paying part of the fees.
For application packs, either consult the website at www.my-ila.co.uk or ring the ILA on 0800-0725678. To find out what courses are available in your area, try local colleges or ring Learndirect on 0800-100900. At least those are freephone numbers, not the pound;1-a-minute "You havedefinitely won a prize" calls