“The solution to some of the gravest problems we face as a society lies on reforming the way we educate our children”, wrote Alan Greenspan in his 2006 memoirs. For a change, I wholeheartedly agree with the man. Educational reform in the UK, along with restoring fiscal credibility, is of preeminent importance to the cause of securing long-term growth prospects for the UK.
As we slowly climb out of recession (although apparently at a faster rate than the rest of the EU), standards of education and widespread availability of high quality schools, colleges and universities will form a key part in creating what needs to be an increasingly flexible labour market.
The current centralised state sector, supposed to guarantee the availability of quality schools across the country, has produced some of the highest inequalities of educational opportunities in the developed world. A recent OECD report, ‘Economic Policy Reforms: Going for Growth’, states that educational achievement in science, mathematics and reading is extremely uneven. The standard deviation of student performance, a measure of how far individual cases deviate from the average attainment, is higher in the UK than both the OECD and EU-wide averages.
The current state system is becoming increasingly clunky, bureaucratic and cumbersome, an abject failure for thousands of youths across the country leaving high school with nothing to show for it. The talent and experience of teachers is systematically precluded by top-down proclamations of what counts as learning. The best teachers I had at school where those who ignored OFSTED’s view of ‘quality teaching’ in favour of a more flexible and spontaneous approach, responsive to the classes needs. The in-classroom know-how developed by teachers must be unleashed. Competition is key to ironing out the regional differences in educational standards.
I’ll reserve my judgement as to which party can best deliver such reform, bearing in mind the likely resistance to be faced from teaching unions, but it must be a top priority for whoever takes power. Educational standards are a key input in determining economic productivity, labour flexibility, innovation, growth, crime rates and many other indicators of a countries’ progress; little else is of comparable importance.