The Report Card on Competition in Schools

Britain's education system was radically transformed by the Education Reform Act (1988). The objective of these reforms was to raise educational attainment through the establishment of a quasi-market based on greater parental choice of school and the transfer of control of resources from local education authorities to the schools themselves. Annual School Performance Tables were published in order to help parents make a more informed choice of school. This report asks whether these reforms were actually successful in bringing competitive forces into education, and what the effects have been in terms of efficiency and equity.

Analysis of data from 3000 publicly funded schools provide these answers:

  1. Parents have sought equality. Schools with a 'good' exam performance relative to their local competitors have taken a bigger share of the market.
  2. The exam performance of schools is positively related to school size. Small schools are at a disadvantage in terms of exam performance.
  3. Exam performance has risen as schools feel the effects of competition and try to outdo the achievement of other schools nearby.
  4. There is some evidence of a widening gap in the social composition of schools, through this is small.

However, factors other than competition may have produced the improvement in exam performance. Government efforts to expand higher education may increase the pressure to 'do well' in GCSEs.There is a growing realisation that in the information age, job prospects are linked to educational performance. And the publication of performance tables, schools may have focused on the headline A* to C grades rather than more diffuse targets.

Since the introduction of market forces has had a positive impact on the exam performance of schools, it seems appropriate to use the market mechanism as a means to deliver further improvements. Attention needs to be focused more directly, however, on improving the performance of pupils from lower-inome groups, since this is where the problem of poor performance mainly lies.

In terms of future policy, an obvious extension of the competition approach is to provide incentives to get the best teachers and the best school management teams into the schools with the worst performance.

An alternative policy is to create incentives for schools with 'good' exam results to take a greater proportion of their pupils from low-income families, allowing them greater resources to offset the disadvantages of their family background. Such a policy would help pupils from low-income families to benefit from peer-group effects on their performance, thereby raising the average level of educational attainment.


Read the full paper. 

Wired to Learn

The government wants to create the 'school of the future' with ICT-based learning in new-look buildings and at home. But existing government policy stands in the way of this vision. Teacher and ICT expert Tom McMullan identifies the blockages: too much focus on numbers rather than sustainability, low teacher confidence, dismal connectivity, and the lack of realisation that content, not hardware, is what it's all about.

Read it here.

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.

Read it here.

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.

Read it here.

A Class Act

While both Labour and Conservative parties talk about the value of parental choice in education, other countries are actively encouraging it. "All state schools could become independent." says the reports author, former Fabian society research chief Stephen Pollard. Examples are given where the public funding private provision model is successfully being used. In America charter schools, which have been set up by local parents receive tax funding, are non selective and are exempt from much of the regulation imposed on state schools. New Zealand has copied the charter school model, replacing the old district bureaucracies with new boards of trustees for each school and has abolished zoning. 82% of New Zealanders now claim to be satisfied with their children's education, and 97% of low income families being satisfied. Equality and educational standards would both rise if the government stopped running schools and paid others to do it instead.


You can read it here.