As Britain faces dire PISA education rankings, the government should liberalise the free schools application process and give parents a voucher for a place in any approved school, state or private, says a new research report from the think-tanks the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Market Reform of Education. (School Vouchers for England: Harnessing choice and competition for greater quality and equality in education – http://www.adamsmith.org/sites/default/files/research/files/Voucher%20paper%20web.pdf. Executive summary: http://cmre.org.uk/uploads/publications/Voucher%20exec%20summary.pdf)
The move would abolish the restrictions that prevent poorer parents from accessing England’s best schools. Proximity-based admissions should be scrapped, being replaced by lotteries and subsidised transport in cases of oversubscribed schools.
At a time when many areas will face a 20% shortfall in places by 2015, urgent and cost-efficient action is required, the report says. Parents may be left without schools to choose from unless the government accelerates the development of new free schools.
The government therefore must simplify the school creation process, says the report, cutting through red tape and introducing a voucher system so that parents can signify where and how they require schools to be built.
Gabriel Heller Sahlgren, co-author of the report and Director of Research for the Centre for Market Reform of Education, said:
“Parents are currently restricted to choosing schools they can afford or the schools they can afford to buy a house near. Giving parents a voucher, redeemable to all state schools and participating private schools, would usher in a new era of social mobility and reverse the decline in the quality of English education.
“A voucher programme would expand the number of schools that parents could choose. Parents could choose participating private schools, which would be incentivised by the prospect of a more steady income. The resulting increased competition between schools to attract pupils would cause significant improvement in education.
“Good schools in sparsely populated areas would be incentivised to expand by receiving more pupils and money. Similarly, bad schools would be incentivised to improve by the threat of losing pupils, and therefore funding. A voucher programme would avoid the need to build more costly free schools, as well as the huge costs and regulations surrounding which have hampered the government’s education reforms."
A copy of the paper is downloadable here: http://www.adamsmith.org/sites/default/files/research/files/Voucher%20paper%20web.pdf. An executive summary of the paper is downloadable here: http://cmre.org.uk/uploads/publications/Voucher%20exec%20summary.pdf.
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The mission of the CMRE is to explore the potential for more diverse, competitive and entrepreneurial provision in the education sector, and the feasibility of market-led solutions to public policy issues.
The CMRE is a registered non-profit company limited by guarantee and independent of all political parties. The Adam Smith Institute is an independent classical liberal think tank.