Sunday, September 11, 2011

Inbetweeners, EMA and sixth form providers: what comes after the long rise in participation?

When I went to the cinema last week I wondered if all four of the Inbetweeners would have stayed on in the sixth form if they had been 16 a decade ago. Over the summer the release of NEET numbers got media attention but not the data showing the huge expansion of 16-18 education since 2000.

How much of the rise in participation was due to Educational Maintenance Allowances? It definitely played a role. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that EMA was an “efficient maintenance allowance” increasing the proportion of eligible 16 year olds staying in education from 65% to 69% and boosting the participation of eligible 17 year olds even more.

One of the first acts of the Coalition was to wind down EMA as part of its £6 billion of ”efficiency savings”. This year 16 year olds will no longer be eligible for EMA if they stay in education. How will this affect participation rates?

There is anecdotal evidence that there may be an impact this autumn – for example, chatter on the TESConnect website. There has certainly been some pretty crude hard-sell in the run-up to enrolment trying to attract 16 year olds – colleges offering free laptops, even a school sixth form promising free driving lessons.

What this means for the enrolment of 16 year olds, the raising of the participation age to 18 and the funding of providers of 16-18 education will, no doubt, become clearer over the next few months.

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