Discussion of school reform usually focuses on parental choice, and how the competitive pressures that creates can drive up standards. Less discussed, but equally important, is that the supply of schools has to be liberated too – something that features heavily in Michael Gove’s Tory education plans. There’s no point allowing people to choose a school if new providers can’t enter the market easily to meet demand.
Even once you’ve introduced choice and freed up supply, there are some other aspects of reform that shouldn’t be ignored. First of all, there’s not much point in being able to choose from a wide-range of schools if they all have to follow the same government rules. In theory, the Tories ‘New Academies’ would (like Labour’s ‘City Academies’) have no more curriculum requirements than independent schools. That is definitely a good thing – freedom from the national curriculum gives teachers the freedom to tailor tuition to their pupils, not Whitehall regulations and standardised tests. Care will just have to be taken to ensure that these schools’ ‘funding agreements’ do not become too prescriptive.
Then there’s the teachers. Schools should be able contract with them individually, setting pay and conditions as they see fit – that will allow them to attract the best people and get the most out of them. And contrary to what the unions seem to think (they are deeply opposed to such reforms), schools exist for the benefit of their pupils, not their staff.
Another important point is that the government’s TeachFirst scheme (where high-quality graduates go straight into teaching after an intensive course, without having to go to a teacher training college) should be expanded. Lord Adonis, the Labour schools’ minister, has said that he wants this to become the main route into the teaching profession. He is right – the scheme attracts more and better graduates, and prevents trainee teachers being indoctrinated by a left-wing educational establishment.