The report card on competition in schools

The year-by-year improvement in examination results owes more to the spirit of competition between schools than to Whitehall¹s increasingly centralized controls over them. Schools could produce still more improvements in the future if they were given even more freedom to manage themselves and compete for pupils. But there must be more focus on improving the performance of schools in poorer neighbourhoods, which have not kept pace with the general improvements.

Based on a study of 3000 state schools by two Lancaster University economists, the Report Card says the results of the competition between schools that has followed the introduction of league tables and other reforms in 1988 has been that:

- Parents have sought quality, moving their children to local schools that are higher up the league tables of exam performance;

- Exam performance has risen as schools feel the effects of this competition and try to outdo the achievement of other schools nearby;

- Larger schools perform better because they can be more flexible in how they use staff time; and

- The gap between rich and poor schools is widening, though not by much.

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Learning from Europe

This report is based on the experience of school choice policies in the Netherlands and Denmark, and shows how the policies of those two countries provide important lessons for efforts to improve the UK's school system. In the Netherlands and Denmark, school choice policies and per capita funding have been successfully implemented, the results being equal access for all pupils to independent schools, which today cater for 70% of pupils in the Netherlands and 12% (and increasing) in Denmark. These liberalised policies have been accompanied by higher performance by pupils in independent schools, higher parent satisfaction and lower per pupil cost.

 

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Education Cheque

Former Education Department special adviser Stuart Sexton says that parents should be empowered to seek out the most appropriate school for their children, and schools should be incentivized to meet their demand. But how, when many people cannot afford to become active ‘customers' in the education market?

Give parents an Education Cheque to cover the cost of their children's education. Let them choose the school they want. Let schools strive to satisfy parents, as customers. And let them use the parents' education cheques however they want in running and developing their schools. In other words, let the funding for schools come bottom-up from parents, not top-down through layers of Whitehall and local government.

 

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Customers not Bureaucrats

If we cut out Whitehall and local bureaucracy, we could give front-line head teachers another £1350 per pupil to spend. And wouldn't we get a more responsive, more local, more parent-focused school system as a result? Thinker and journalist Stephen Pollard argues that in value for money terms, when you add in all the bureaucratic costs, state education is now actually more expensive than private education. Why? Because too much of the education budget is wasted on inappropriate spending by distant officials. The answer? Devolve the budget to front-line managers. And do the same in health and social services while you're at it!

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Access to Achievement

The demand for private education is enormous - and not just from parents of the brightest students. But only a minority can afford it, because they already pay tax towards the state system. It's time to build a new system that supports parents who want the right school for their children's abilities - and needs - so that non-state education becomes accessible to all, says top private school teacher Chris Lambert in this ASI report.

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The Standards of Today

The former chief inspector of schools tells it like it is. Exams really are getting easier,more kids are leaving primary schools unable to read, and leaving secondary school without the skills needed to work or study. The quangos in charge of the exam system should be scrapped and the national curriculum torn up - leaving parents free to choose schools teaching different things in different ways. A must read - if you're one of the few that can.

 

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NHS Reform: towards consensus?

This report, which calls for an end to today's centralised health service and the adoption of competing european style social insurance system, has been endorsed by prominent health experts. The main thrust is that the government should neither provide nor finance health, it should merely regulate. Instead hospitals and doctors should be made fully independent of Whitehall, in the form of local trusts. Families would subscribe to one of a number of social insurers, who would then buy services from one of the independent providers. Ex-minister Frank Field says that "if the present government's reforms do not soon show signs of success, a system of competing health suppliers regulated by government and run on insurance lines will begin to be practical politics."

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Getting Back Your Health

People in good health should be able to get part of their taxes back and take the money to a private health insurer or company health plan, according to actuary and City University professor Philip Booth in a new report for ASI. This would give patients better choice, driving down costs and driving up quality as new healthcare providers bid for their custom.

 

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Unbundling the Welfare State

In this part of 'Unbundling the Welfare State', Professor George Yarrow argues that Alistair Darling must confine the government to the relief of poverty and allow the private sector to take up the task of providing basic pensions an social security benefits. He states that the welfare state has become riddled with complexities, inconsistencies and perverse incentives, and positively discourages low-income families against savings and insuring themselves for future needs. He sees means testing as a tax on personal saving and that the government must focus on improving the market.

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Making Pensions Simpler

Abolition of all benefit and contribution limits, except those on lump sums would produce a massive simplification of the non state pension sector. With little or no scope for abuse, given the recent erosion of pension tax privileges. But real simplification is possible only within the context of broader reforms of anomalies and complexities in the tax system, in how different pension schemes are treated, and in the relationship between pensions and the structure of social benefits.

 

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