Three factors are conspiring to make the policy of raising the participation age (RPA) extremely challenging for the Coalition Government.
Late last month, there was confirmation that the number of 16 and 17 year olds in England is 56,000 higher than previously expected. In addition, 16-19 spending on participation in education and training by the Department for Education unlike 5-16 education will not be protected as part of Spending Review 2013. And 2015/16 is the first year when cuts to the 16-19 budget and the RPA is increased to the 18th birthday coincide.
DfE will need to deploy its 16-19 participation budget extremely carefully to maximise the number of 16 and 17 year olds in full-time education and part-time training from September this year when the RPA is increased to 17 and September 2015 when the RPA is increased to the 18th birthday.
A logical first step would be for DfE to restrict participation funding to 16 and 17 year olds starting full-time further education and part-time training before their 18th birthday. Starts before the 18th birthday should be funded until the young person completes or leaves their course.Participation funding for courses starting after the 18th birthday should cease – including apprenticeships as well as full-time education – with resources redirected to expand provision for 16 and 17 year olds. Restriction of funding to the starts of courses before the 18th birthday would logically also apply to post-16 child benefit and child tax credit payments, and bursary grants.
Savings derived from restricting participation and financial support to young people starting a course before their 18th birthday should be re-directed to expand provision for 16 and 17 year olds at least until the end of 2014/15. Around £200m might be saved from DfE 16-19 participation budgets and HMRC child benefit and child tax credit budgets: a significant sum to expand opportunities for 16-17 year olds including participation in full-time further education, jobs with apprenticeships, volunteering and part-time training and traineeships.
Funding for full-time further education and apprenticeships started after the 18th birthday should be down to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Restricting participation and financial support funding to young people starting before age 18 now, however, might be a wise move. Funding for young people starting a course after their 18th birthday could be an area the Treasury would want to cut in 2015/16, the first year of the new spending review.
Mark Corney is policy adviser to CfL and writes in a personal capacity.