Problem of who will be paid to stay on

12th September 2003 at 01:00
The report of the Association of Colleges survey on educational maintenance awards was welcome but the AOC did not see the flaw in its conclusion.

Since there are no accurate figures on who was eligible for the awards one cannot calculate the percentage of the take-up.

In some areas, like Suffolk, the numbers eligible would be relatively fewer.

In the 56 education authorities who piloted the awards there was an increase in participation of more than 7 per cent and even higher for increases in retention. To receive the grant the 16 to 19-year-olds had to attend, be punctual and hand in their work on time.

Local government worked successfully with colleges and schools to make the pilots so successful. There were a few who did not. However, in areas where only a few students were eligible for the award some colleges and schools in those areas were less interested in publicising the scheme or monitoring it properly.

The DfES has collected considerable information of how it did work. In most areas it has been very effective with 100 per cent of the students being paid on time and being monitored successfully.

Local government has been effectively responsible for assessing who was eligible. Most have been keen to publicise effectively the scheme to the schools before the students are 16 so they are aware of the financial benefits to them of remaining in full-time education.

Unfortunately, as it goes nationwide, local government is being cut out of the process and the scheme is being privatised and run as a national call centre.

Unlike with university student loans, local government will not assess eligibility. This is being done by the organisation that will pay the grants.

This is a different process from what happens with university students and the reasoning for that puzzles all the leas involved.

Extending the idea all over the country is very welcome. However, the average eligible 16-year-old who by definition is from a poor family is not used to dealing with a remote call centre.

Assessing eligibility is a sensitive matter and I am convinced fewer will apply than should. It will not be easy to publicise the scheme especially when you cannot monitor what happens.

The payments needed streamlining in some way under a national scheme but assessing eligibility needs to be done locally.

The Government should have built on the experience of the leas and that expertise could have then been shared with the other 100 which have not been involved.

Young people at 16 do need incentives to remain in education and welcome the chance for independence. They also need support over study materials, travel costs and meals. These grants paid on a weekly basis have been so helpful for so many.

From 2004 it is essential all who are eligible are able to take advantage of the financial help.

Graham Lane

Education chairman

Local Government Association

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