This was the slogan of Blair’s government; the next’s should be vouchers, vouchers, vouchers!
With Obama as new President, and the UK election on the horizon (at least by 2010) it is elementary that we begin reassessing policies on both sides of the Atlantic. Government intervention in education is justifiable under paternalistic concerns and the positive neighbourhood effects resulting from investment in humans. However, whilst this line justifies government funding, it does not validate a government monopoly over the running of schools.
These arguments have been well learnt since Friedman’s insights into “The Role of Government in Education” in 1955. However, the point needs to be hammered home.
A progressively based voucher scheme for approved privately run schools would benefit the vast majority. A market for education would reduce inefficiency and facilitate true social mobility. Vouchers provide a great improvement over the current system of schooling. They provide choice and schools are motivated to tailor for the needs of parents and students. In addition, they serve to help the disadvantaged the most by providing new opportunities. (I should emphasize that I do not regard vouchers to be a comprehensive solution.)
Focusing on the UK, I recently had the opportunity to talk with Chris Woodhead, the once controversial Chief Inspector of Schools, and it is clear our educational system is in dire need of change. Declining academic standards (in real terms), decreasing social mobility (despite Ed Balls’ claims), high truancy and other problems have yet to be solved by the ‘innovative’ government reforms of academies and ‘deep’ learning. Cynically, it also appears that our future plans will only continue this trend. Political parties and politicians may claim to be agents of ‘social mobility’ and ‘change we can believe in’, but until they address the issue of education with radical and far-reaching reforms, progress will be limited and our system will continue to limit the real opportunities provided to our youth.
See our 2007 report Open Access for UK Schools for more info.