Our school system is far from perfect.
At the moment reform is being dominated by the left. In the upcoming Labour party conference, a motion, backed by John McDonnell, has been tabled to make it Labour policy to abolish all private schools. This is a massive step up from the already radical proposals from the Labour party. At the same time the Conservative party, unironically, have nothing to do but argue for a continuation of the current system. There must be an alternative to both of these suboptimal realities, a ‘third way,’ if you like, and there is – school vouchers.
A purist school voucher system is where the state has no role in the production of education. There is no “state school” or “private school” distinction. All schools are operated by either charities or businesses. The government however gives a ‘voucher’ or an amount of money indexed in some way to fee inflation to guarantee an education. In this system the state still remains 100% committed to a promise to provide education but is no longer involved in the production of education.
The current system has created a two opposing systems, with private schools (generally) far superior to state schools. You would think it is common sense to try and help those stuck in the inferior system to access the better system. Instead of two blocs always set against each other in public debates, school vouchers would remove "The Berlin Wall " between them (as the New Statesman puts it) and allow a more sustainable and desirable spectrum to emerge. It would create a system that more accurately reflects our modern society that is no longer divided upon binary lines. Indeed, the BBC states how in "countries where privately-managed schools receive higher proportions of public funding, there is less social segregation". A school voucher system could help bring more equality to our system.
It is important to remember as well that abolishing private schools would still not bring about an equal schooling system. Currently grammar schools, postcode lotteries and disparity from one local authority to another simply masks inequality in a non-market system. Instead of parents having the option to pay more for a better education they are instead forced to play complex games to get their children into the best school.
There are no complaints of the inequalities that exist within the independent school system. There would still be some who would not pay any more towards fees and thus remain in a school similar to that which they are currently in but most would probably pay more. Importantly, however, they will be able to pay a little for a little improvement rather than fork out the tens of thousands needed to just get into the independent sector.
Another advantage would be that with a national school voucher that is the same amount for everyone there would be an embedded market mechanism to benefit less affluent areas. In poorer areas of the country wages are lower and thus the voucher spending per pupil will go further for each pupil. Furthermore, school vouchers would bring increased efficiencies as both price and non-price competition result in parents and the state getting better value for money.
As we can see there is a ‘third way’ so to speak between the sub-optimal scenarios of a divisive status quo and a sterile, restrictive socialist proposal. School vouchers can bring about a more diverse education system that reflects our modern society. Putting choice and competition at the heart of our education system will help to deliver the best education for our children.