Freedom in Education

There is no freedom in state education.

It is a totalitarian provision.  It is a battleground where war is waged between two ideologically opposed groups.  On the one had there is conservatism and the focus on returning schools to being “seats of learning” run on the Private school model and on the other, the liberal left, advocating a “therapeutic development of the whole child” run and managed by the state where every child gets the same standard & format of education.  Neither are wrong. Neither is entirely correct.  There is no right way to educate a child.

Yet, as we stand, families have a right to express a preference but no real choice within the state system. Families get what they are given.

I’m going to outline an argument for the privatisation of education in order to achieve the goals of both.  It hinges on one old economic concept  from Adam Smith and something I heard at a lecture by Sir Mark Moody Stuart  last week.  He argued that over regulation leads to limits on creativity.  He cited the legislation for catalytic converters in cars, which does not specify the end result, (emission quality) and allow the market to devise the cheapest, most effective solution, but rather the method (platinum) which may be implemented. this has confined innovation in emissions management.

This over regulation is destroying our schools.

This solution would resolve all the arguments about teachers pay, length of the school day, pedagogy and curriculum.

It makes the following assumptions:

      1. All families are able to decide what is best for their child’s future.
      2. The families unable to do so can be supported by state intervention.
      3. Adam’s theory of the invisible hand would hold true in this context.
      4. A very lightly regulated free-market in education would not inhibit the collective wisdom of the free market.
      5. The wisdom of the crowd will establish the efficacy of the provision very quickly.  See James Surowiecki’s story of the Space Shuttle Challenger Booster rockets & the market reaction to the problem.

A brief explanation of the Invisible hand theory:

Selfish action of an individuals in a free market will ultimately lead to the benefit of society.  This is questionable in the context of products, but may hold true for services such as education. So, if each consumer is allowed to choose freely what to buy and each producer is allowed to choose freely what to sell and how to produce it, the market will settle on a product distribution and prices that are beneficial to all the individual members of a community, and hence to the community as a whole. The reason for this is that self-interest drives actors to beneficial behavior in a case of serendipity. Investors invest in those services most urgently needed to maximize returns, and withdraw capital from those less efficient in creating value. All these effects take place dynamically and automatically.  from [wikipedia]

My proposal will seem rather a lot like the assisted places scheme developed under Thatcher.

Phase 1 – make all schools single business units, each school has no affiliation to a larger body unless they choose to.

Phase 2 – provide every parent with a ‘voucher’ for the full cost of the child’s education to spent as they see fit.  Implement support for vulnerable families to ensure they make informed choices.  This voucher would currently be £3,317, plus a further sum added by not spending on regulation and state/LA administration.  SEN children would, receive the extra funding they currently do, as reflected in the sentiment of the new financial arrangements for SEN.  This figure does not reflect any adjustment for location.

Phase 3 – deregulate schools – apart from – statutory safeguarding requirements.  Close OFSTED, devolve spend on OFSTED to families.

Phase 4 – Create a ‘home schooling audit board’ to interview families seeking to use the voucher to homeschool – money to be placed in a fund to spent only on educational activities. [This needs work – so don’t pick at details.]

Consequences of this:

Parents will be free to vote with their money.

1) Academy chains will develop – the ‘market’ will be free to weigh them. Some will deliver a culture families want and thrive.

2) Different pedagogies and values will co-exist and be evaluated by the market.

3) The best providers, as voted for by the market, will grow in size and deliver best value.

4) The weakest providers will effectively be driven out of business.  Allowing strong, popular providers to take over, hence raising the quality of provision in difficult areas.  Inadequate teaching and leadership would have a much shorter period of grace before action had to be taken.

5) Arguments about length of the school day, class size, phonics, teachers pay, curriculum etc will all be decided by the market.  The market would establish the value of a high quality teacher.

6) The voucher could be topped up by families who prioritize the education of their children and wish to invest in it. This would effectively make the lower cost private schools accessible to more people, meaning their reach could be greater and the whole market could evaluate their provision. The best would grow.

6) The current totalitarian system where politicians and educators vie for supremacy would cease to exist.  The focus would be solely upon satisfying the ‘market’ : Families.

7) Debate about not for profit/for profit provision would be irrelevant – the market would decide which was best – high quality provision from a profit making organisation would probably be acceptable.

This has been really interesting to write.  My conclusion:  This is Gove’s vision. This is why he is deregulating and pushing for academisation.  It is possible , as Adams suggests, that even through the selfish act of a parent choosing what is best for their child, society and the vulnerable in society can benefit.  But only if the market is deregulated.

My advice:

Plan for this, it’s already happening with the most engaged set of parents: Those with children who have a statement of SEN.  As of 2014 Parents will control the budget for the education of their child.  Assume this is a pilot for the mainstream.

“These reforms will put parents in charge. We trust parents to do the right thing for their own child because they know what is best. The right to a personal budget will give them real choice and control of care, instead of councils and health services dictating how they get support.”

Children’s Minister Sarah Teather

5 thoughts on “Freedom in Education

  1. Interesting and provocative as ever, Pete.
    If this is indeed Gove’s vision, why wouldn’t he try to bring it into reality in a more open way. Why wouldn’t he win the hearts and minds of the profession (and others with an interest in education) through logic and reason based upon sound educational, philosophical principles? Why seek to undermine and alienate the educators?
    Are we hearing a coherent, reasoned argument? Situated within a context that the populace can understand? Or are we at the whim of an ill thought through strategy that is founded upon one person’s belligerent view of what is right with some hand-picked evidence to support that view?
    I fear that only time will tell. But time is something that a 9, 10, 11 etc year old doesn’t have. They get one go at it. And if we mess up while they’re having their turn?

  2. “Invisible Hand” theory assumes the market’s (parent’s) choices are based on expert product knowledge. If such were always true, we’d have no seat belts in automobiles, McDonald’s wouldn’t exist, farmland would sell for housing, and representative governance could be replaced with direct democracy. It’s difficult enough for caring, intelligent, immersed educators to evaluate methods and success homogeneously. If parents are the only evaluators via privatization, children cannot exceed their parents’ success, as all parents wish for. Let’s not gravitate education toward the mean of the curve.

  3. A cogent piece of writing Pete. The only flaw is that we know you are wedded to Gove’s Free School ideology. Nothing wrong with that in one sense as I support the view that we should be allowed to choose what we think works best for our children. The trouble is that you are talking about STATE Education paid for by TAX PAYER’S money. If people want to go it alone in the independent sector (and you and I have both flirted with it in the past) then that’s OK by me. However, Gove’s visions are based upon an extreme economic ideology which is driving everything at the moment. New Labour were just as guilty only dressed it up in different language. I believe there is a better lens through which to see education and we have to begin to believe again that the education must be taken out of this way of thinking. Whatever happened to the idea that education is there first and foremost for social good rather that to support economic progress?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s