January 25, 2005
Paying children to stay on at school

Tonight and tomorrow I want to attempt (although I promise nothing) some slightly more substantial blog writing, maybe for here, maybe for elsewhere. So I just want to fling up something here to enable me to forget here for the day.

And the education news story from recent days that I have found most interesting just now has been this one:

The Government is set to give a £100 bonus to thousands of teenagers throughout the UK for continuing in education.

Under a scheme rewarding teenagers for carrying on in education after completing their GCSEs, children who have managed to maintain good attendance records over the past few months are to get a bonus £100 on top of their means-tested Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

That programme has seen students receive up to £30 per week since September, and of the 270,000 children across England who have taken advantage of the scheme, around three-quarters have good enough attendance figures to qualify for the bonus award.

The UK has one of the worst continuance rates for 16-year-olds in the industrialised world, but the Government's EMA scheme is designed to combat that by encouraging more teenagers from economically deprived backgrounds to further their education.

It is understood that the total cost of the bonus system will reach around £20 million, prompting criticisms from the Liberal Democrats that the payments are "excessive".

As educational outrages go, this one doesn't strike me as especially outrageous. Indeed, as a preparation for working life it seems to me rather better than demanding attendance in exchange for nothing.

Because it is a new and untried method of spending public money, this scheme has attracted lots of criticism, but honestly, many of the educational spending initiatives I read about tend to be far more wasteful. Presumably, any month now, all kinds of stories will start emerging about kids showing up for their money, but otherwise doing bugger all, but I'm guessing quite a few will genuinely benefit from the arrangement, quite aside from the money.

I of course hope that once the principle of paying children to do school work is accepted, this might lead to wider acceptance of the idea of children being paid to do work work. But alas, this scheme is more likely to be viewed as yet another way to entice children away from work work, to rescue them from it. Heaven forbid that children should ever do anything truly useful. That would never do, would it?

How about a compromise? Children (especially boys) leave school at 13, when they think it's stupid, and get paid to do work work. Then, they get paid to go back to school, when, at more like 17, they start to see the point of it. Just thinking aloud.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:24 PM
Category: Economics of education