July 31, 2004
Closing a small school

This is why there should be a free market in education:

The council at the centre of a legal wrangle over the future of a community school wanted to "eradicate" small rural schools, a court heard today.

Parents from Hermon school in Pembrokeshire, west Wales, are fighting plans to close it, and have taken their case to the High Court.

Pembrokeshire Council wants the 53 pupils and those from nearby Blaenffos transferred to a £1.5 million school at a third village, Crymych.

In his closing submission in the case, Nicholas Bowen, representing the parents, said the council had "a determination that big is beautiful and small needs to be eradicated".

He added: "What they have left out of the account is the real compelling evidence that things are extremely successful from a parental point of view and from an education point of view in this happy community school.

"There has been no proper consideration of all the arguments put as to why the status quo should be supported.”

He said part of the council’s case relied on planning guidelines which meant the centre of the community was regarded as being in Crymych.

He said: "They have devalued the importance of the community and the importance of the asset, by reference to planning guidelines which have absolutely no proper place in a decision like this."

He said the guidelines were "mumbo-jumbo".

Yesterday Rhodri Williams, for the council, told the court the council had no blanket policy to close small schools, and that the new school at Crymych was just 1.8 miles from Hermon.

The phrase "… just 1.8 miles" says it all.

If there were a completely free market in education, there would surely be someone willing to run a local school in this particular locaity, for all those for whom localness is what matters most.

I recall my mum getting involved in a long drawn out national dispute about small hospitals, which the Powers That Be were then busily closing, but are now busy rebuilding under a different name ("health centres" etc.). The same error was embodied in that decision, which is to measure only some numbers, and to make those numbers better by building bigger, while forgetting other things that are not measured, like miles travelled by the poor bloody punters to get to the new mega-places. (This is especially bad if the poor bloody punters are sick or injured.)

Capitalists often make mistakes of this sort, but when they do, their customers start screaming, desert in droves, take their business elsewhere, and – one way or another – the bad decision is reversed. Often at great expense, but reversed. It's all very public and it makes the private sector look bad because of its best feature, which is that, messily, it does correct the worst of its mistakes. And it is this all too imperfect arrangement that the politicians have finally learned that that they must somehow recreate. Mostly, they try to fake it. That is a start. But one day, I hope we have it for real.

The public sector just steamrollers forward, and uses its own cock-ups as reasons for being given yet more money to waste.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:55 PM
Category: Politics