31 October 2007

Let Parents Decide

Here's something you don't hear me say very often: Gordon Brown is right. Today he told us:

"We can no longer tolerate failure, no longer will it be acceptable for any child to fall behind, no longer acceptable for any school to fail its pupils, no longer acceptable for young people to drop out of education without good qualifications without us acting. No more toleration of second best in Britain. No more toleration of second best for Britain."
However, he is mistaken in thinking that the state should take over or close down schools that fail our children. Instead, it is time to let the market decide.

Rather than controlling schools from the centre, the state should pay schools on a per-pupil basis via a voucher or tax credit scheme, allowing parents and guardians to choose the school they would like to send their children to, promoting higher standards, innovation and competition. Failing schools will be taken over by successful education providers or be forced to close down by parental choice.

Of course, it will come at a cost: no more expensive central bureaucracy.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

As far as I recall from when I was a school Governor, schools are funded by the Government, based on the number of pupils they have attending (on a certain date in the autumn term).

This is often before the parents of the new Year 7 intake realise that the school is not as good as their prospectus claimed and remove their children elsewhere.

The biggest drawback schools have to face is the Exclusion of disruptive pupils being overturned by the local authority. Give the teachers back their authority and maybe the pupils will respect both teachers and schools, leading to much better discipline.

G in Oxfordshire

Alex said...

It is so much more complicated than just introducing vouchers. Schools are already funded based on the number of pupils they have attending, so all vouchers would really achieve is a reduction in the marginal cost of sending your children to private schools.

My experience as a school governor is that the biggest problem faced by schools is the large number of parents who don't properly support their children. They tend to send their children to the nearest school, however bad it might be. And their children demand more attention from teachers, with poor consequences for the other children. But I blame the parents here - their children won't be helped by a voucher system. All the vouchers would do is make it easier for the rest of us to escape from those schools.

John said...

Alex & G, while I agree with the problems you both identify (I too am a school governor), the issue of vouchers is about separating the financing and administration of schooling. As I have noted previously, children who receive vouchers are 15-20% more likely to finish secondary education, 5% less likely to repeat a grade, and much more likely to take college entrance exams.

From a Christian perspective, it would also go some way towards fulfilling the Biblical instruction for parents to take control of the education of their children. As Graeme Leach suggested earlier in the year: "Imagine a world where education is free at the point of use (with the option to top-up the voucher if you wish to go to more expensive schools) and parents seek out the school that best fits the needs of their child, from a multitude of suppliers meeting a diverse range of academic, vocational, sporting and, yes, spiritual needs."