The carrot is dead, long live the stick?

7th November 2008 at 00:00

The raising of the compulsory education or training age to 18 - a measure due to be fully in force in 2015 - raises one very big question which should be on the minds of everyone who believes education is about more than bums on seats.

When post-16 education or workbased training becomes compulsory, just how attractive a proposition does it need to be?

In the interests of harmony, let's assume that we can trust everything this Government, and indeed the further education system itself, does for students will always be in their best interests.

Even if we take all this at face value, there's one thing that has not been considered. Something that no longer seems the remote threat it once was - the prospect of a Conservative government.

The influential right-leaning think tank Policy Exchange raises an inevitable question: if 16-years-olds have no choice but to stay in the system, why do they need a Pounds 30-a-week incentive?

The raising of the participation age could yet prove to be the worthy but misguided measure that allowed a future Government to remove a financial lifeline from hundreds of thousands of teenagers. In addition, we know that many will drop out anyway, regardless of the law, and be even more likely to do so without the incentive of the EMA.

There are always dangers when policy-makers attempt to combine the belt of the marketplace - in this case in the form of the grants designed to increase demand - with the braces of regulation - in the form of criminalising those who refuse to stay on.

Policy Exchange has spotted the over-egging of the pudding and, perhaps a little ironically considering its right-wing credentials, has decided the heavy hand of the state is more to its taste than the financial incentive of EMAs.

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