Fraser Nelson might be too laudatory here

But isn’t it going to be just marvelous if he isn’t? For he’s talking about the state of education, the state of the state school sector. And it appears at least that the problem has finally been cracked:

When Boris Johnson is asked about his education, he cheerily replies that he would like “thousands of school as good as the one I went to: Eton”. Once, this would have been seen as preposterous: how can state schools compete with a £35,000-a-year Leviathan? But each year shows what teachers can do, given enough power and trust. Battersea Park was a failing school when Harris took it over last September with only 45 per cent of its pupils securing five decent GCSEs. Yesterday, it announced this has risen to 68 per cent. King’s Maths School, a free school in London, released its first-ever results earlier this week. Its average points score is among the top 10 schools in the land. Not the top 10 per cent; the top ten schools.

The staggering advances being made by state schools in Britain are the work of teachers and pupils, rather than politicians. Kenneth Baker, Tony Blair and Michael Gove simply offered increasing amounts of freedom to teachers, and their faith has been amply rewarded. For those who had despaired of ever finding a remedy for sink schools, this is nothing short of miraculous – and it’s only just beginning. School reform can now be seen as the greatest achievement of the Labour years, even if the Conservatives are the only ones who believe in it.

We might even call this a victory for conservatism (no, not Conservatism). Burke’s little platoons can indeed organise society so that it actually works. But the much larger point that we need to keep pointing out here is that there’s a vast difference between government or state financing of something and government or state provision of something. This is relevant to the railways, the NHS, to the power sector and all the rest as well.

There are indeed good arguments, Adam Smith made one of them for example, that there should be governmental subsidy to the education system. Being part of a generally literate and numerate population almost certainly is a public good. But that does not mean that it has to be government that actually provides the education. The same is true of health care: yes, it probably is true that at least some goodly portion of health care financing should be provided through the insurance pool of the entire population. And thus through the mechanisms of if not the tax system in its entirety then at least some portion of that insurance net. But this is not at all the same as stating that every provider of health care should be a government employee, nor that politics should be the mechanism by which we decide what health care, in detail, to offer.

As this schools revolution is showing, there is that vast difference between government financing of something desirable and government provision and management of it in detail. And as that revolution is showing, removing the government provision of it seems to be the best method of improving the provision of it.

Securitising Britain’s Future: A free market solution to university funding

 

When the Coalition Government increased tuition fees from £3,300 to £9,000 a year, it had done so to provide a sustainable alternative that would boost university’s incomes and cut government spending. But there are reasons to believe this has failed. The Guardian reported that the new funding system is likely to cost the government not less, but more money than the system it replaced. It is time to reevaluate university funding, and I propose the following alternative: a system under which students would agree to ‘sell’ a percentage of their future income to their university in exchange for an education.

Under the current system moral hazard occurs since the universities need not worry about its students’ ability to repay their loans. Instead, the government will bear the costs if students default. This is a problem in desperate need of addressing especially considering that an estimated 73% of graduates will not be able to fully repay their loans.

Under the proposed system in which universities own the income rights to students’ future earnings, the incentive structure would be changed as to align the interests of students, universities and society alike. Universities will factor in how much their education will benefit their students in terms of their future earnings. This allows relative prices to convey how much certain professions are, in fact, valued by society. The university would encourage more students to take up careers that are more valued and it could charge less (in terms of percentage points) for the degrees with better prospects than those with worse.

By contrast, universities today charge uniform rates and have an incentive to provide the most appealing courses – which often mean courses that are enjoyable or easy – rather than being actually useful or valuable. The graduates may therefore lack the skills to be productive members of the workforce, despite accumulating large debts. Universities even have an incentive to admit students it knows will not benefit from the course since it will nonetheless receive government funding.

In turn, universities could sell its future income rights through a process of ‘securitisation’, per course or as a diversified portfolio. This free-market solution provides an equitable opportunity to all, since students’ ability to attend university is not depended upon current wealth but future earnings; thus depended upon skill and merit, not money. This system would streamline all stakeholders’ interests and ‘securitise’ Britain’s free and prosperous future.

Tamay is the runner-up in the 18-21 category of the ASI’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition. 

A difficult problem but we’d really better try and find a solution

Disturbing news about social mobility in the UK. To he point that something really must be done:

Well-off parents create a “glass floor” for their less academically inclined children ensuring they “hoard the best opportunities” over poorer peers, a study has suggested.

Children from wealthier families but with less academic ability are 35% more likely to become high earners than their more gifted counterparts from poor families, according to findings from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

Clearly something just must be done. The report itself is here and commenting upon it we get:

Study author Dr Abigail McKnight from the London School of Economics said: “The fact that middle class families are successful in hoarding the best opportunities in the education system and in the labour market is a real barrier to the upward social mobility of less advantaged children.”

“Children from less advantaged families who show high potential at age five are struggling to convert this potential into later labour market success.”

“Schools could do much more to help children from less advantaged families build on high early potential.”

Difficult to know what to do really. Perhaps some system could be devised whereby we identified those bright but poor children and then gave them the academic, specialist, education which would enable them to make the best use of those talents? Would it be too, too, odd to suggest that they might even be sent to separate schools?

This will put the cat among the pigeons

Disturbing findings for a central tenet of the prevailing left wing educational ideology:

Teenagers facing the ire of parents over their exam results may have found the perfect excuse after a new study concluded that exam success is largely inherited.
Scientists at King’s College London discovered that up to 65 per cent of the difference in pupil’s GCSEs grades was down to genetics.
Previous research found that genetics could influence core subjects like English, mathematics and science but it now appears that they also play the same role in humanities, languages and art.
It suggests that if parents have struggled to draw, learn a second language or understand algebra, their children are also likely to find those subjects difficult.

For that prevailing ideology is that it is entirely the environment and education itself which determine such things. Danny Dorling once put it as anyone could grow up to be professor of social geography at Sheffield University: something which prompted us to comment that obviously anyone had. The implications of this blank slate idea being that differences in outcome must be due to differences in access to resources. Thus poor people do badly because they are poor, deprived even simply be inequality.

That 65% of academic success (to the point that passing exams is that success) blows rather a hole in this idea.

We should not, of course, immediately lurch over into the errors of social darwinism though. For this is just a restatement of what should be blindingly obvious about a mammalian species. There are indeed mutations, there’s a shuffling of the genes in every generation. We should therefore be assuming that there will be variance other than simple and direct inheritance of intelligence, just as with any other genetically determined characteristic. Thus all should have access to the same opportunities but we just shouldn’t be surprised when outcomes are not equal.

Regulating away Britain’s best teachers

The latest report from The Sutton Trust (pdf) looks at a topic it last visited in 2003: how the backgrounds of state school teachers compare to those of independent school teachers. Its finding is that there is still a significant difference between the proportion of teachers at state and independent schools that have studied at the UK’s best universities. Independent school teachers were also found to be the most likely to have a degree in the main subject that they teach.

Here is the percentage of all teachers who attended a Russel Group University, by post-A level qualification:

 

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Most people would expect this result. But what is more surprising, yet garners less attention, is that the heavily-regulated environment of state education hinders its flexibility to hire the same, or better, quality of teachers as independent schools.

There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the lack of formal requirements for teachers entering the independent sector actually encourages, rather than discourages, applications from graduates of some of the UK’s leading universities, because top applicants wish to enter the teaching sector immediately, rather than pursuing further qualifications.

State schools in England, Wales and Scotland are required to be registered with the NCTL and their General Teaching Councils, respectively. Private schools are free of this requirement and can hire applicants with specialist subject knowledge that want to teach soon after they leave their field of expertise.

In independent schools, teachers are not required to have Qualified Teacher Status, which, according to Elliott Lockhart’s 2010 survey “has led some to portray teachers in the independent sector as unregulated, unaccountable and lacking the necessary professional preparation that would make them fit to teach.”

As we know from the report and our general experience of the private education market, this is far from the case and actually strengthens the choice of employees that independent schools benefit from. For Scotland, this is particularly concerning as we are about to enact a law (see a recent Telegraph article about it here) making independent schools subject to the same requirements as state schools. So we would practically have no schools not subject to these restrictions.

Right now Scottish independent schools, like is the case in all of the UK’s constituent parts, take advantage of teachers registered outside of Scotland and this legislation would prevent that. On top of this, the Scottish government also doesn’t engage with Teach First; a programme that is injecting fresh talent into schools in England and Wales and is one of the reasons, judging by the teacher background metric, that state schools have been catching up with independent schools in the last 12 years.

Scottish politicians should reject the Education (Scotland) Bill as private schools are the perfect testing ground for trying out what works and doesn’t work. Subjecting them to the same rules as state schools will impede progress and diminish their autonomy – they’re independent for a reason.