October 16, 2003
Choices that aren't

Julius Blumfeld comments on two recent and depressing news stories:

The first is a report on Conservative plans for education vouchers:

This week, the Conservative Party promised a voucher scheme for education whereby funding would follow a child. This, it said, would enable parents to spend the amount of money the government spends on each state school pupil at a school of their choice.

The party says this money could not be used towards a place at a private school, but could, for example go into a school being set up by parents or a charitable foundation.

I had to re-read that last sentence quite a few times to be sure my eyes weren't deceiving me. Yes, the Tories are proposing a vouchers scheme in which the vouchers cannot "be used towards a place at a private school". This does rather beg the question of what the point of such a scheme would be. At it happens, the exclusion of private schools is largely meaningless because most British private schools are charitable foundations, which apparently will be included in the scheme. Nevertheless, the Tories' apparent fear of mixing the words "education" and "private" in the same policy, suggests a political timidity on their part which, if they ever get power again, does not bode well for future educational reforms.

The other gruesome story is in the Independent, and is about a report from Ofsted, one of the various Quango's that controls education in Britain:

The Government policy allowing parents to choose their child's school is polarising the education system and trapping poor children in the worst schools, an official report has warned.

Weak schools often served the poorest, most vulnerable and disaffected pupils, the joint report by Ofsted and the Audit Commission concluded. The Government and local authorities should not allow unpopular schools to "sink further" by expanding popular schools to allow more children into their first-choice institution.

Note, again, the last sentence: "The Government and local authorities should not allow unpopular schools to 'sink further' by expanding popular schools to allow more children into their first-choice institution."

In other words, parents are to be given choice about where to send their children, as long as they don't have the temerity to choose a popular school, because then the rubbish schools won't have enough children attending and might then be forced to close. Well at least we now know what the Government means by "choice" in education.

Julius

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:14 AM
Category: Politics