What do you want to do with your life? Ethics and compulsory education

Document Type

Journal Article



Place of Publication

United Kingdom


School of Arts and Humanities




Hodgson, D. (2016). What do you want to do with your life? Ethics and compulsory education. Journal of Education Policy, 31(4), 495-507. Available here


From 2004 to 2008, the Western Australian State Government embarked on a period of policy and legislative change to increase the compulsory school-leaving age from 15 to 17. This article adopts a governmental conceptualisation of ‘ethics’ to explore the policy discourses and practices. Drawing on interview and documental data, the research examined practices that were deployed with young people who were assessed as being at risk of early school leaving, or discontinuing from employment or other training, and consequently, were thought to be in breach of the new policy requirements. Although some of the arguments behind the move to increase the school-leaving age focused on the importance of education and learning, the ethics of the policy were more concerned with participation, and, consequently, entailed distinctive expectations that young people would work on themselves in ways that supported their employability. Specifically, young people were subjected to strategies at self-improvement and a calling to better themselves by participating within a normatively defined notion of engagement. A focus on the conduct of young people along these lines resulted in a problematic policy approach that centred narrowly on what young people were and were not doing, and what they ought to do, be, and become.