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Government's mobile text system ‘nudge’ slashes education drop-out rates

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By John Glenday | Reporter

July 23, 2015 | 2 min read

The number of students dropping out of further education has been reduced following the introduction of a text alert system on Sunday evenings and at the end of half term holidays, reminding youngsters to plan their journeys to college and informing them that their tutor is looking forward to seeing them.

Text, nudge

Drawn up by Downing Street’s ‘nudge’ the message costs just 3.5p to send and has had a dramatic effect in bolstering attendances by using behavioural prompts and insights to cajole people into making the right decisions without resorting to sanctions or threats.

It is already being chalked up as a major success for Downing Street’s Behavioural Insights Team whose other successes include convincing the super-rich to cough up their taxes on time, boosting the number of organ donors through messages on the DVLA website and even encouraging investment bankers to make charitable donations by including small packets of sweets amongst requests for money.

One of its biggest gains was a 50 per cent jump in the number of ethnic minorities completing their police recruitment simply by issuing a timely letter inviting trainees to reflect on why the job mattered to them.

There have been some failures however with a bid to cut smoking during pregnancy by including stickers on pregnancy testing kits which had no discernible impact as did a scheme offering advice on the optimal setting to set household thermostats to reduce heating bills.

Commenting on the initiative unit head David Halpern said: “Civil servants are sceptical because they have seen so many ideas come and go. However they have seen what can be achieved by making small changes and using simple techniques and now several departments have their own nudge unit, including HMRC.”

Following David Cameron’s introduction of the unit in 2010 similar initiatives have been established in Australia and Singapore with plans in train for Germany and the US.

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