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Category Archive • Free market reforms
January 11, 2005
James Tooley gets a bit of publicity …

James Tooley, Professor of Education at Newcastle University, has got himself some local media coverage:

tooley.JPG

Governments around the world are not capable of providing "education for all", a controversial North academic has argued.

A study by Newcastle University professor James Tooley says that in developing countries, private schools for the poor offer the best method of reaching targets set of getting all children into education by 2015.

Prof Tooley argues that private schools in the Third World are often superior to state schools and has called on the international community to throw its weight behind fee-charging schools.

The study, published in the Journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs, is the latest controversial statement from Prof Tooley, who was once described as the "high priest of privatisation" for his championing of the private sector.

And then they wheel on another expert to show that Tooley is talking nonsense.

I am a huge admirer of James Tooley, and of what he is trying to do, and the story he is trying to tell.

This piece tries as hard as it can to make it sound as if Tooley is (a) mad ("controversial"), and (b) recommending, in defiance of all regular behaviour and best practice, private schools for the Third World. But the real story Tooley has been reporting for the past several years now is that the Third World is already going full steam ahead with private education, and doing very well with it.

And what is more, Tooley has travelled extensively and observed this process, which you can't tell from this article.

Tooley's web presence is not very impressive, for a man with such an interesting message, and such a global one.

Tooley, as I say, travels a lot. He visits any number of interesting places. He sees all sorts of stories and meets lots of fascinating people doing fascinating things.

I know that as soon as anyone does anything interesting and valuable, people queue up to tell him he ought to be doing more, but … Tooley really should have a blog. And a digital camera.

He should, in short, combine his virtues and achievements with mine. Which is, I suppose, how advice tends always to go.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:48 PM
Category: Free market reforms
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December 01, 2004
Two educational postings at the SAU blog

A posting today at the SAU blog is by one of my favourite educational commentators, Francis Gilbert. It is basically a written down version of what he said on this occasion.

Gilbert supplies his own summary:

As a consequence of my encounter with the state education system, I believe that there are five policy changes that might begin to solve our country's educational problems.

1. Take the education system out of state control;
2. Allow schools to set their own admissions policies;
3. Disband the National Curriculum;
4. Introduce a standardized reliable series of external tests; and
5. Offer improved child care facilities to the parents of very young children.

That shouldn't take long!

And while you're at the SAU blog, check out Elaine Sternberg's review of Alan Bennett's play The History Boys, now in repertory at the National Theatre.

While embedding the links into the above verbiage, I noted that the samizdata piece I did after attending Gilbert's SAU talk, and the Bennett play, are both, centrally about the matter of the measurability and the immeasurability of education. Bennett argues that the immeasurable shouldn't be neglected, and I argued that immeasurability is no excuse to put the government in charge of everything.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:21 PM
Category: DramaFree market reforms
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October 19, 2004
The Privatisation of Oxford University?

I can't say that I fully understand all the raminfications of this, but it sounds very important, and very good:

A significant number of Oxford colleges are supporting calls for the university to move towards privatisation and independence from the Government.

An analysis of Oxford's 30 undergraduate colleges showed widespread anger at government interference and concern about funding.

It also produced claims that a move towards independent status – similar to that enjoyed by leading universities in the United States – could begin within 10 years.

MichaelBeloff.jpgThe time frame, predicted by colleges that support a move to privatisation, is half that suggested by Michael Beloff, the president of Trinity College, last week. Mr Beloff said that increased government pressure on colleges to admit more working class students, combined with funding shortages, could force Oxford towards independence within 15 to 20 years.

Several college heads went further, however, stating that privatisation was not only inevitable, but desirable - and would take place more rapidly than Mr Beloff suggested.

You see, me, I thought these places were pretty much "independent" already. So file under: But what does Brian know? As I occasionally have to remind everyone: this Blog is for Brian's Education, as well as being an Education Blog done by Brian for all you ignoramuses out there.

Gratuitous picture there of Michael Beloff, from here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:55 PM
Category: Free market reformsHigher education
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September 15, 2004
"Our children's education is too important to try experiments to see what works best"

Yes, that's what they say.

I try not to go on about America all the time, but this was too juicey a quote to ignore. Thank you Google for picking out that sentence.

Here's the paragraph it comes in:

And, while charter-school supporters point to other studies and anecdotal information to show that charter schools can work, vying studies don't demonstrate who is right and who is wrong. They simply demonstrate that the possibility for success of children in charter schools is an unknown. Our children's education is too important to try experiments to see what works best.

But if people are dissatisfied with what they are getting now, and if nobody is actually going to die or even suffer acute pain during these experiments, and might actually be a lot happier and learn more, then what's wrong with parents who want to giving them a go.

After all, there are a lot of public sector schools where parents would love it if the outcome was an "unknown", instead of the all-too-known that they are instead stuck with.

I think I know what these authors were trying to say with this amazing sentence, but the words they actually used show, I think, how out of touch they must surely be with lots of parents. They've said things like this to their friends and co-educrats so often, to such warm applause, that they truly didn't realise what they'd put. When they talk or write about "experiments", they, and their usual audiences and readerships, see evil right wing monsters inflicting cruel tortures on furry white animals and chucking defenceless kids off an experimental cliff. But lots of others will simply see them turning their backs on the obvious way (experiments) to make progress and to add to the store of human knowledge, in this case to the knowledge of how best to impart knowledge to the next generation.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:49 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[0] [2]
June 03, 2004
Buy your own school!

Good to see our government supporting a free market in education.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:20 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[0] [0]
May 09, 2004
I hope for the best for this – but fear the worst

Payment by results in Denver:

DENVER — As a teacher of emotionally disturbed children, Jeremy Abshire sets goals for each of his students. Geronimo, 14, an American Indian who knew only the letters for "Jerry," will read and write, and sign his true name. Shaneesa, a meek 12-year-old reading at a first-grade level, will catch up to her middle-school peers and attend regular classes in the fall.

Under a proposal approved by teachers here and to be considered by voters next year, if Mr. Abshire's students reach the goals he sets, his salary will grow. But if his classroom becomes a mere holding tank, his salary, too, will stagnate.

"The bottom line is, do you reward teachers for just sitting here and sticking it out, or for doing something?" said Mr. Abshire, who has been teaching for four years. "The free market doesn't handle things that way, so why should it be any different here?"

Yes and no. The hard bit with schemes like this is setting the goals fairly. Ambition, if you think about it, is liable to be penalised. Canny manipulation of the targets so that they are easily reachable is liable to be rewarded. Yet reaching for the stars has definite merit as a teaching attitude, doesn't it?

What really happens in that "free market" that public sector people talk about so much these days is not just that they set targets and reward you for reaching them. The other way they check up if you are working well is: they watch you to see if you are working well. Your boss works next door, and he can tell. He did your job, and he can tell if you are doing it well or not, even if the "results" now say different.

One of the most depressing things about the public sector is when it mimics the "free market" inaccurately, generally by putting lots of bureaucratic procedures in place, to measure "achievement" which end up getting in the way of achievement. In the real free market there is a constant tension between measuring work accurately, and the threat that such systems pose to the actual doing of the work enthusiastically.

So, I wish this Denver scheme well, but say of it: watch out. There will be problems as well as miracles, although probably in the opposite order to that order. The miracles will come first, when the scheme starts out working pretty much as it is intended to. But then will come the problems, made all the worse by the now immense prestige and hence political untouchability of the new regime, when canny operators learn to manipulate it into a regular reward system for everyone, even though most of them are just running the same old holding operation that the scheme was supposed to get rid of.

Sorry, but when it comes to the public sector I am a pessimist, and never more so than when they are faking up a market, but without actual consumers, waving money, allowed to bugger off if they don't like the product, etc., etc..

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:21 PM
Category: Free market reforms
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March 12, 2004
"Australia's entire education system is imperilled …"

It sounds as if Aussie Prime Minister John Howard favours a free market in education, and is doing something about it. The pips - the Philips anyway - are starting to squeak:

PROPHECIES of doom for public education are becoming self-fulfilling. One of our nation’s greatest achievements, a universal education system open to one and all, irrespective of class or religious belief, is being demolished by ideologues intent on destroying anything prefixed "public": public health, public broadcasting, the traditions of the public service and, of course, any vestiges of public ownership.

The young John Howard was educated in the public system. It must have played some part in his brilliant career yet, as prime minister, he lashes out at public schools, slandering them as places of subversion and moral squalor. Little wonder that parents, confused and concerned, remove their kids from the system and send them to independent schools. Just as I started to write this column, I got a phone call from a senior educator with the latest figures. The market share for public high schools? Down to 52 per cent.

In the past 12 months, I’ve travelled all over Australia talking to school principals – hundreds of them, heads of primary, secondary and private schools. And let the record show that even the heads of major independent schools are deeply concerned by the trends. They know that if the public school system is effectively trashed by a combination of "impropaganda" and a turning of financial screws, Australia’s entire education system is imperilled. And that what looks like "choice" will become chaos.

Any Australians with opinions about that?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:24 PM
Category: Free market reforms
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March 06, 2004
Why Tim Worstall likes the latest Conservative education policy announcement

I like the idea of daily postings, and I even like them at the weekend. There is something satisfying about an uninterrupted posting record. But what to put today?

Well, this morning I encountered yet another policy initiative here, but this one is different. It is from the Conservatives, and it just might do some good, if only by making the people who ought to be suffering to suffer.

But I thought about it a bit and decided that the political implications were at least as interesting as the educational implications, so I said what I had to say about this at Samizdata rather than here.

But then I wanted to say here that I'd said all this there, as is my wont here, and that ought to involve me saying in more detail why I liked the sound of this policy. Basically what it is is education vouchers, dressed up as something else. Funding follows parental choice. Popular schools get more money and expand. Unpopular schools get less and wither away. That kind of thing. Good idea, I think. For why: see all my previous posts here since this blog began.

Luckily a commenter called Tim Worstall has commented in more detail, and says the kind of thing I had in mind better than I could. Quote:

You leave out some other implications of the policy: vouchers will quite obviously not pass through the LEA's : at one bound the system will be free of a bureaucracy that swallows 30% of all input. This has the interesting side effect of making state education equally funded with private at £5,000 or so a year per pupil (at the level of the school), without higher central government spending. And even more: removing education spending from local council budgets (where it currently rests along with the LEA's ) goes a long way to making local taxation more reasonable and responsive to local spending.

There will of course be an outcry from the LEA staff as the implications sink in, that they're all going to be out of a job soon, and yet there is even a solution to that inherent in the cunning plan. The number of LEA employees with teaching credentials is within a fag paper of those teaching posts unfilled by a shortage of trained graduates.

So, real choice in schooling, abolition of a bureaucracy, solve the teacher shortage, end the "resources" crisis in state education and go at least halfway to getting a handle on council tax.

Maybe my old flatmate will actually get re-elected, into Govt this time, and I can look forward to some falconeration? Maybe just the odd quango post to start with? Usual rules, all meetings held standing up, pay of those attending publicly calculated minute by minute, any decision costing more by that meter to take than is at stake immediately made by the Chairman and, most important, a sunset clause.

For the benefit of Zanzibarian (and such like) readers of this, "LEA" stands for "Local Education Authorities". But what does that bit about his old flatmate mean? Maybe he will explain in a further Samizdata comment.

Anyway, as the American blog-commenters say: what he said.

I did some googling, and I rather think that Tim Worstall must be this guy.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:29 PM
Category: Free market reformsPolitics
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January 09, 2004
"… deciphering the viability of sustaining these alternative schooling models under the context of increased state and federal demands …"

News of a paper entitled "Cyber and Home School Charter Schools: How States are Defining New Forms of Public Schooling".

Abstract:

Cyber and homeschooling charter schools have suddenly become a prominent part of the charter school movement. Such schools differ from conventional schools by delivering much of their curriculum and instruction through the use of the internet and minimizing the use of personnel and physical facilities. This paper examines how these alternative charter school models are emerging within the larger public school and charter school communities with particular attention to recent developments in California and Pennsylvania . In these two states public scrutiny of cyber and homeschooling charter schools has led to considerable debate and demands for public accountability. Of particular concern is the need to modify the regulatory framework to accommodate cyber and homeschooling charter schools as well as consideration of the differing financial allocations that are appropriate for schools that operate with reduced personnel and facilities and the division of financial responsibility between state and local educational agencies.

My instant reaction is that "of particular concern" is for people who care about "regulatory frameworks" to bugger off to Timbuktoo and die. Instead of "defining new forms of public schooling", why don't these people just let other people go ahead and do them? Especially when these schools only require "reduced personnel and facilities".

It's on the up. It's far cheaper. Before you know it there'll be no excuse for public money being spent on education at all. And then what? Answer, we must regulate the damn thing until it is good and expensive again, and only highly qualified people are allowed to do it, and in good and expensive ways.

But that's probably just me. They probably have their hearts in approximately the right place.

You can read the whole thing, in one of those absurdly unwieldy pdf files that occupy sixty pages of uncopiable text when they could have been presented as ten copiable ones.

Anyway let's have a look at the final paragraph of this thing, to see where they're coming from.

As we mentioned earlier, existing research that examines nonclassroom-based schooling is limited. New research efforts will need to focus on school-level analysis that can assess the effectiveness of instructional programs, organizational and governance structures, resource use, and the accountability mechanisms that nonclassroom-based schools employ. Ultimately, new research will assist us in deciphering the viability of sustaining these alternative schooling models under the context of increased state and federal demands.

"Deciphering the viability ..."? Alternative schooling "models"? "Under" the context ...? I still can't tell if these people are meddling class meddlers, or fighting the good fight from within the heart of the beast, and talking the beast's language in order to outwit him.

My life is too short to be ploughing through stuff like this. Maybe your life is longer.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:16 PM
Category: Free market reformsHome educationSovietisation
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October 30, 2003
Education vouchers bankrolling roll of honour

Who's bankrolling vouchers? This is an article written by the sort of schmuck (I think that's the American technical term) who believes –and for the sort of organisation which believes – that "bankrolling" anything is automatically evil. But I was interested. Who is bankrolling vouchers? Here's the (bank)roll of honour.

There are some very wealthy folks out there – many of whom work together – who fuel America's pro-voucher movement. Some names for your file:

1. Wal-Mart heir John Walton, the movement's most prolific giver, gave seed money to the pro-voucher group CEO America and $2 million to Michigan's 2000 voucher ballot initiative. Walton bankrolls a massive private voucher program along with financier Ted Forstmann and runs a charter school management company. And through the Walton Family Foundation, Walton supports advocacy groups, think tanks, and legal nonprofits that promote vouchers and tax credits.

2. Financier Ted Forstmann recently funded a multimillion-dollar ad campaign attacking public education. Forstmann wants to scrap public schools in favor of an ATM-like system that would dispense taxpayer-funded vouchers for tuition at schools run by anyone who wanted to start one.

3. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper spent more than $26 million last year on an unpopular California initiative - defeated by a 70-30 margin - to give publicly funded vouchers to children from even the wealthiest families.

4. Alticor Inc. President Dick DeVos directed the 2000 Michigan voucher initiative and, with family members, spent $5 million on this measure - which voters rejected by a 70-30 margin. DeVos and his wife, Betsy, are continuing their anti-public education assault through a new nonprofit organization that promotes a skewed report claiming that 90 percent of Michigan's public schools are failing.

5. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee makes generous gifts to provide a reliable funding stream for vouchers, from courtroom to the classroom. Among the beneficiaries of the Bradley Foundation's largesse: Milwaukee's privately funded voucher program, Harvard researcher Paul Peterson, and the Institute for Justice, a pro-voucher legal defense group.

6. Texan James Leininger has poured money into political campaigns to promote a conservative agenda that includes vouchers. Leininger provides the bulk of the funding for the Horizon program in Texas, a privately funded voucher program that's draining money from San Antonio's Edgewood public schools.

7. Insurance company executive J. Patrick Rooney, the founder of an early privately funded voucher program, went national after unsuccessful attempts to push vouchers in his home state of Indiana. Rooney has been a key figure in several pro-voucher groups, including CEO America, the American Education Reform Council, and the Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation.

8. Economist Milton Friedman uses his modest-sized foundation to supplement his four decades of voucher advocacy. Friedman supports ad campaigns, conferences and publications, think tanks, and advocacy groups to promote public school "alternatives."

9. Richard Mellon Scaife exerts his financial reach through four family foundations. Scaife, who joined other voucher regulars in supporting the 1993 California voucher initiative, provides core support for think tanks and advocacy groups, private organizations that offer vouchers, and public interest law firms that promote vouchers and tuition tax credits.

10. In 2000, the voucher movement found itself new benefactors. Univision CEO Jerrold Perenchio gave more than $1 million to the California voucher initiative. Former Circuit City CEO Richard Sharp gave $100,000 to both the California and Michigan initiatives. Michigan's big-giver list included Wolverine Gas & Oil CEO Sidney Jansma, at $470,000; Domino's Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan, $350,000; and the computer company Compuware, $361,000.

And that's all of it. The whole thing.

Is this supposed to cheer up the people who are opposing vouchers? Why don't they just put a giant sign up at their website saying: "WE ARE LOSING AND THERE'S BUGGER ALL WE CAN DO ABOUT IT!"

Time was when these people knew how to do propaganda, and from those far off lefties of the time when time was, I have personally learned a lot. But this is extraordinarily inept. It's just a list of how big and powerful and just plain mean the opposition is, with no explanation whatever of what is going to be done about it.

I particular liked the bit at the beginning about how many of these "very wealthy folks" actually "work together". What swine! They believe in the same thing. They're on the same side. They work together. Is their no limit to the perfidy of these monsters?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:02 AM
Category: Free market reforms
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October 28, 2003
Eamonn Butler: tough on crime - tough on ... state education

A new slant on what for this blog is perhaps getting to be a very repetitious argument, from Eamonn Butler:

In 2001, UK police recorded 870,000 violent crimes, far more than the next worst, France, at 279,000, and nearly five times Germany's 188,000. Burglaries, at 470,000, were again well ahead of France (210,000) and Germany (133,000).

You can probably suggest reasons why things have got so bad. I can think of several possibilities – and they start with a state-monopoly school system that is no longer prepared to instil in kids that some ways of living are simply wrong, because - as we are now discovering to our cost – they are socially pathological. Insist on parental responsibility and, through parental choice and competitive supply, put parents back in charge of education: that, I think, would have more long-term effect on crime than any number of razzmatazz government "initiatives".

So there.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:31 PM
Category: Free market reforms
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October 08, 2003
Education in Arnie's California

There were a couple of interesting education-relevant comments over at Samizdata.net concerning the Arnold Schwarzenneger victory in the California governorship recall election.

Cydonia said, of the hope that Arnie might make substantial public spending cuts:

Sadly I doubt that anything will change.

According to the BBC, almost half of California's budget is spent on State "education". Any politician with the slightest libertarian leanings would hack away at that, but Arnie has (again according to the BBC) pledged not to touch the "education" budget.

And fnyser replied:

Cydonia; you're right but there is a ray of hope. One can provide vouchers and charter schools without decreasing "school funding." I don't think it's impossible.

CA passed total immersion English and threw out bilingual education. All the guilty white liberals were surprised when the biggest support for that measure came from Spanish speakers: they realized speaking Spanglish was a great way to get a career as a dishwasher. There's more and more support for alternatives to public school esp. in the "minority" community so … maybe a step in the right direction.

Hasta la vista. By the way, what does "hasta la vista" mean? I realise that I have no idea.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:23 PM
Category: Free market reformsPolitics
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September 17, 2003
The new Adam Smith Institute blog on education

I've little time now, and may not have any more time for education blogging today. So you may have to make do with this link, which is to all the education stuff at the new Adam Smith Institute blog.

There are three pieces so far, about the private educational habits of US politicians, the idea of "a tax on education" (which is not about what you'd think – it's actually about the idea of the government fining Britain's universities for price collusion), and (the first posting of all) about ... education vouchers.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:29 PM
Category: Free market reforms
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September 07, 2003
The American voucher campaign

In Britain I have tended to be scornful of the campaign that has sputtered on for years in favour of Education Vouchers. I have felt that these campaigners should have concentrated more on putting the broad case for free market education, and should then maybe mention vouchers at the end of their screeds, with the caveat that vouchers are a half-measure, because they still mean the government deciding what "Education" means. After all, you can't be allowed to spend your "Education" Vouchers at the Ice Cream Parlour, can you? That's not a "school", is it? But what if it is, sort of? What if they have books there, and internet connections, and things get learned? See what I mean? Personally I prefer to emphasise the benefits of people getting education for their children using freedom's own vouchers, money.

However, the vouchers picture may start to change here if things in the USA continue to develop there as they are developing over there. There vouchers are spreading fast, and if that leads to a definite gap in quality between the voucher schools and the regular schools, and if that gap is big enough to get noticed over here, then the argument here might shift.

Here is a piece by the Heritage Foundation's Krista Kafer about the growth of school choice, and here is evidence that they are willing to make the campaign politically forceful by making the political personal, the personal bit being about the school choices made by the politicians whom they are targetting.

To me, the big story is how the Americans are not just handing out vouchers to the poor. They are creating circumstances in which even poor people can use some of their own money to make a difference. This is the significance of the tax credit meme. You don't get your good education for free. But good education is brought within your financial range, if you are willing to make a sacrifice for it. That means that the parents who go for it will be the best ones, and that means that the product they buy will stay good, as it expands. A social and cultural change will be set in motion.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:38 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[0] [0]
September 02, 2003
Black parents taking charge

There have been a big debates for years about the rights and wrongs of education for black people, especially black boys, and not just (e.g.) here (to name the nearest spot of the blogosphere to me thus exercised lately). Is it racist? Do teachers expect too little? In general: who's damn fault is it?

But if you are a black parent, what do you do? Not surprisingly, a lot of black parents are now moving to home schooling. Although the "home" bit is not quite the central point. The central point is, they're doing it themselves..) And because home schooling is a much bigger thing in the USA than it is here, yet, black home schooling is becoming very big there.

Venus and Serena Williams are perhaps the most famous among those who call home their alma mater. The tennis stars were educated at home after their father withdrew the pair from middle school to teach them himself.

The Williams family has become a visible part of a phenomenon that can be seen across the nation – an increase in the number of black families who are choosing to homeschool.

Homeschooling has come a long way since it first came on the scene more than 30 years ago. In fact, homeschooling has become a viable education option for families across the country and has seen a 4,000 percent increase in 20 years.

The fastest growing demographic of homeschoolers is the number of families, where black children are five times more likely to be homeschooled than they were five years ago.

“There’s really a shift in the African-American community,” said Jennifer James, a homeschooling mother in Chapel Hill, N.C., who founded the National African American Homeschoolers Alliance in January. "Parents are taking hold of their child’s education. They’re saying 'I’ve got to do it because nobody else is going to do it.'"

Link added. Thanks to the Libertarian Alliance Forum for the news.

As I say, the real story here is surely black do-it-yourself education rather than merely black home education. Black-managed independent schools are surely part of the same trend, as is the increasingly vocal preference among US blacks for education vouchers, in defiance of Democratic Party orthodoxy. One way or another, the parents are taking back control of their children's education from the wider culture, which has been failing them both so badly, for so long.

Let's home that in a couple of decades time the question will be at least, and at last, moving towards: Who should get the credit for black education in the USA? - and that similar trends will make themselves felt more strongly in the UK.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:38 PM
Category: Free market reformsHome educationParents and children
[1] [0]
August 25, 2003
True and false privatisation

Here is a story which illustrates the difference.

The first private company to take over the running of an entire education authority is to be fined yet again for failing to meet its targets for improving GCSE and national test results.

CEA@Islington will lose half of the £908,480 fee that it was due to receive for overseeing Islington Council's schools this year, despite achieving its best ever GCSE grades.

Provisional GCSE results released by the north London borough yesterday show that 37.5 per cent of its pupils achieved at least five top A* to C grades, compared to 32.9 per cent last year. However, it failed to reach the target of 39 per cent, the figure agreed when the company won the Islington contract three years ago. The figures compare with a national average of 51.6 per cent last summer. The latest fine means that the company has been penalised three years running.

Both the council and CEA@Islington welcomed the rise in results, but recognised that more needed to be done.

CEA@Islington may in some sense be a private sector enterprise, but it is not operating in the private sector. It has one customer: the local authority. And it would appear that it has only one definition of results, namely exam success. In the private sector it would have lots of customers, and they would decided, individually, in accordance with their many and various ideas of what educational quality consisted of, whether they thought CEA@Islington was doing a good job for them. The aggregate of those decisions would determine CEA@Islingon's income.

This, on the other hand, is just an operation in churning the public sector up, and getting the people who work in it to accept payment by "results", instead of just salaries for showing up, which may be a good idea, but which may not (see above). In this story shows, the process of arguing that the contract between CEA@Islington and Islington Council should not be stuck to in the future has already begun. ("… despite achieving its best ever GCSE grades"). When the time comes for contract renewal, there will be a lapse back to public sector business as usual. Potential rivals will be wary of plunging into such a difficult and hazardous "market". This time the "contractor" will have a far better idea of what it can expect to achieve, and thus what to demand in its wage negotiations. Because wage negotiations is what it will be, with the company's management merely replacing the union as the negotiator. Very soon the company will become a mere part of the problem it was originally hired to solve.

When an apparently dramatic change is made in the public sector, the initial results as often quite good, but then they lapse back towards mediocrity again, when the underlying interests of the parties involved assert themselves.

In contrast, a move towards a genuinely free market often starts with chaos, only gradually followed by real and continuing improvement.

Which is just one more reason why privatising things, for real, can be so very difficult. After all, chaos can erupt in the public sector for all kinds of reasons, and how do you know that this chaos is good chaos, chaos with a future, or just chaos chaos?

Have a nice week.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:58 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[0] [0]
August 14, 2003
Combining soccer with education – people are already thinking about it

Of all the education news stories of the last day or two, this one struck me as the most interesting:

It is a shadow that hangs over the thousands of young men who aspire to earning a living from their favourite pursuit, playing football: What if they fail to make the grade?

As the multi-millionaire players of the country's best teams prepare to kick off another lucrative season, the pain of coming to terms with the dashing of dreams can be especially hard for those forced to give up the game through injury or because they have been released by their clubs.

Today, instead of finalising their pre-season training, up to 80 would-be players will be visiting a jobs fair at Keele University, the first of its kind organised by the FA Premier League to prove that there is life after football.

The more I ruminate upon it, the more I believe the growth areas in education to be everywhere except in "schools". The way to sort out a lot of the problems in education is to denationalise, and to allow individual pupil choice. But how do you do that? It has to be done gradually, and it has to be sneaked past the special interests, and if they do see it coming, it has to be too popular and to make too much sense to be opposable. In general, the way that education is going to develop in the future is for adult institutions to diversify down the age range.

In particular, I believe that the big sports clubs are going, logically, to be drawn towards teaching more and more indoor stuff as well. If the big soccer clubs of Britain were to open up schools, not just for the boys they considered possible future stars, but for boys who were merely keen to learn about life with a soccer slant to it, starting with boys of, say, twelve, no one would stop them, provided they did it half reasonably. Their big problem would, on the contrary, be the government being so keen to help.

The basic problem for most teenagers is that they aren't going to be able to do what they would most like to do, and this applies with special ferocity to aspiring soccer stars. Most of them really aren't going to make it. They are liable to be very disappointed.

This story is only about the soccer people taking some of the bump out of the otherwise very hard landing that soccer boys get now if the soccer clubs decide they've no more use for them, which is what it decides for most of them, of course. And what I think it shows is that thought is going into the education of the "others", the ones who don't make it, the ones who if only they can be offered the right alternatives, could do fine, or not, depending.

In short, the world of soccer is thinking hard about education.

Four out of five players who signed on with Premier League clubs in their teens would be released by the time they reached 21, he added. Some of those eligible to attend today's fair will have been with their clubs since the age of eight.

Did I say twelve?

To help them, the league has assembled an all-star line-up of university admissions staff and employers to try to help them develop a new career.

Kate Coleman, education and child-protection manager at the FA Premier League, said: "The league takes the education of young people very seriously and we have worked very hard in conjunction with our academies [established at individual clubs] to encourage scholars to realise the importance of gaining academic qualifications. Unfortunately, not every player who joins a Premier League Academy will sign a professional contract with their club and get a career out of the game. The event at Keele will be a useful opportunity for those players who have been released by clubs to assess what options they have for the future."

Universities including Loughborough – famous for its sports science degree – Cardiff and Leeds Metropolitan will be attending the event. A wide range of employers at the fair will include the armed services, the fire brigade and the John Lewis Partnership.

I guess all I'm really saying is: interesting.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:10 PM
Category: Boys will be boysFree market reforms
[0] [0]
August 08, 2003
I'm too busy so here are some links to other people

I confess that I have lost track of the various blogs called variants of "TCS". That's TCS as in "Taking Children Seriously" rather than Tech Central Station, to cut the complications down just a little.

But whichever TCS blog this one is, I recommend, for whatever that may be worth, this article about how to treat and raise toddlers by Alice Bachini. It's obvious that Alice has personal experience of all this stuff. She doesn't like using her individual children as characters in the dramas she writes about, Lileks style, but I don't think I'm giving away any big secrets if I say that I have from time to time watched her do the kind of thing she write about in this piece, and that I was impressed.

I'll leave it at that, because my day is stacking up, and I have about twelve blogs to attend to. Well, not nearly that many, but on days like today it can seem so. Don't be surprised if nothing else materialises here, but if not, I'll probably try to put up more over the weekend, which I don't routinely promise to do.

Although, there is time to mention that in another bit of the other TCS empire, I also found this. It's about starting a school. Alice would not approve.

Have a good weekend.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:06 PM
Category: Free market reformsParents and children
[0] [0]
July 26, 2003
A proposed unfree market in exams

Very few national education stories interest me as much as perhaps they should, given the subject matter of this blog, but this one looks interesting:

Any organisation could be allowed to set itself up as an exam board under radical proposals to create a free market in qualifications currently being considered by the government's testing watchdog.

A free market in exams is something I've been arguing for here.

Senior officials at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) are discussing plans to deregulate the market in GCSE and A-level exams to provide greater choice and competition for schools.

This is the killer paragaph, which tells you that actually this is most definitely not going to be a free market in exams. It is going to be a "market" in who can best (in who's eyes?) administer the exams that the government has already decided upon. A true free market would mean the examining enterprises examining any darn thing they chose to examine, and people being allowed to pick and choose among all the different offered exams.

Such a move would reverse the recent trend towards fewer exam boards - the three main boards in England were formed out of the amalgamation of more than 20 since the 1970s.

Hm. Markets don't necessarily result in lots of different enterprises. Often they result in a few huge ones. This is because in many markets people especially value standardisation. Think PC compability in the personal computer market.

It would also accelerate the controversial trend for commercial companies to become increasingly involved in running public exams, which recently saw Edexcel, a charity, taken over by the media giant Pearson.

Running "public" exams? And as we've already see above, "public" means the exams that have already been decided on by the government.

The plans were proposed by Sir Anthony Greener, the QCA chairman, a City grandee who is also deputy chairman of BT. He proposed a market similar to that in the energy industry, where some companies are primarily "upstream" generators of gas or electricity, while others sell the product to consumers "downstream".

Doesn't sound much like a "free" market to me, more like an administered one.

Under his plans, exam boards' current responsibilities would be split between different bodies. Tasks from writing the syllabus to marking papers and setting grade boundaries would be handled by separate organisations.

Split? Separate organisations? Sounds rather like what's happened to the railways. I also write for Transport Blog, which has dug deep into that, and if there is one idea that seems to unite us all over there, whatever political direction we come at the argument from, it is that "fragmentation" has been a disaster. This sounds like a plan to "fragment" the exam industry, as opposed to actually creating a free market. Okay, maybe fragmentation won't be such a disaster here, but it remains one of the big myths that in order to introduce capitalism, competition, etc. you have to smash everything to bits.

Any organisation would be able to set itself up as an exam board as long as it was accredited by the QCA and awarded a licence to run academic exams.

See what I mean about administered.

Opponents of private sector involvement in state education are likely to oppose the proposals.

You don't say.

A spokesman for the QCA stressed that the plan was one of several options under discussion, but he said that it was "unlikely" the number of awarding bodies would increase.

So, one of the opponents then.

England's two other exam boards, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance and Oxford and Cambridge and RSA currently remain as charities.

Not quite sure what the significance of that is. Either it just happened to be the end of the story or something is being implied about how the existing boards might have their charitable status removed, or maybe that their charitable status is causing problems, or that making them businesses would make them even worse, or something.

Anyway, as to the story as a whole, the first paragraph of it is inaccurate. The headline is much better:

Exam boards could be subject to market forces.

That's right. And tell me an existing civil servant or other public servant who is not now subject to market forces. Civil servants get paid, and they are bombarded with a stream of instructions from the government about what they must do. That's the plan for these new exam "enterprises".

The problem with this new administered market is that, being collective public officials rather than true free market enterprises, these exam boards will be dominated by the short term matter of keeping their licenses, rather than the long term matter of offering and sustaining good exams, worth taking and worth having passed. And short-termism could result in dumbing down under this new regime, just as it does now. Everything depends on the licensing body. They will be the people in charge, not the new exam enterprises.

This will not, I repeat, be a true free market.

The one aspect of the situation which might just tantalise me into hoping for the best rather than simply assuming the worst, is that some of the suppliers of examination services might be very big. If the supplier is big, then that supplier might be supplying such services to a number of governments around the world, rather than just the one, and therefore might be said to have some kind of reputation to preserve. That would at least nudge the big suppliers away from the worst sorts of short-termism.

But "might" is the operative word there. Plenty of Britain's rail franchisees do lots of other business, and they don't seem to have managed very well. They just blame their one customer, the government, for the mess, and who's to say they're wrong?

A real market would be if individual teachers, parents, children and future employers could choose which exams to take, encourage, and pay attention to, unmolested by the government, which regards education as beneath its attention. We're a bit of a way from that, I think.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:11 PM
Category: Examinations and qualificationsFree market reforms
[1] [1]
June 03, 2003
"... it does sound too good to be true ..."

At the end of last week, a friend brought a Telegraph article to my attention in paper form, but I spent the weekend linking, and have only just encountered it in its linkable version. It's about the headmaster of Newton Prep, in Battersea, London, and it's called "How I'd scrap state schools":

Privately educating every child in the land wouldn't be as costly as you might think, says Richard Dell.

Picture your local school. It is vibrant, happy, filled with excited teachers and motivated children. The resources are first-rate: computers abound, the library is overflowing with books, and the governors are thinking of buying new playing-fields.

So is this your local private school? Yes. And is this yet another school that is too expensive for ordinary people? No. This school charges no fees. It is entirely free, right down to all the books and trips.

Sound too good to be true? Well, it shouldn't. We could create the best independent education for all our children without charging any fees whatsoever. How this could be done is wonderfully simple.

Well, yes, it does sound too good to be true, but the piece conveys what is called infectious enthusiasm, and I intend to study it some more and I recommend that some of you people do also. I think I might even email this man. I wonder what he might say. Something like this?

So do not complain that governments are getting our education system wrong. They should not be running it anyway. Stop whingeing and start doing. We can revolutionise education in our country.

Stop whingeing. Sounds like he's been reading this.

Some of our greatest schools exist because individuals rather than governments invested in education. Four leading independents have just announced a return to their founders' ideals with regards to means-tested scholarships - providing, in other words, the best education for the neediest of pupils.

Despite myself, I am impressed. More research is needed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:00 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[3] [0]
May 14, 2003
Kealey on university funding

While I've been away in France, the Conservative Party has been busy opposing university tuition fees. Natalie Solent is scornful, as is Terence Kealey in today's paper Times, at somewhat greater length.

At the heart of Kealey's argument is that if universities can charge their students then they can achieve financial self-sufficiency, and that with that will come intellectual independence from the government that would otherwise control the purse strings.

Kealey is an important man, whom all those who favour free market solutions to … you know … everything, should be aware of and on the side of and making much of. This is because he has put more eloquently than anyone else I know of the case against government funding for science. My brother recently got hold of The Economic Laws of Scientific Research for me, and I intend to write more on this subject.

Oddly enough though, although Kealey is surely right about the importance of universities being allowed to charge for their services, his own arguments about science funding somewhat undermine the significance – although not the truth – of what he says about university funding.

What Kealey says about science is that universities are not as crucial to the wider economy and society as a lot of the people in them now believe. The conventional model of scientific funding, the one that justifies government spending on science, goes: government funding pays for science, science results in technology, and technology makes lots of money. The Kealey model goes: technology makes more technology which makes money, and science, although it does lead to technology, is also caused by technology. So those temples of intellectual purity, the universities, are not the fountainheads of science, and of technology, and of money for everybody, but more like a sideshow.

But of course you could also argue, as I now will and as Kealey also touches on in his Times piece, that if it is true that universities aren't those great Public Goods that make us all rich, but merely finishing schools for the bright and posh which benefit them but not the rest, that reinforces the case for making students pay their own costs.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:02 PM
Category: Free market reformsHigher education
[1] [0]
April 28, 2003
Jarvis – advising about everything

I try to avoid filling up BEdBlog with mere comments on national news stories, but this story, which was also all over the front page of today's paper Guardian, is a hard one to ignore. I wonder what my friend the boss of Transport Blog, Patrick Crozier, makes of this:

Jarvis, the engineering contractor at the centre of the police investigation into the Potters Bar rail crash, has been awarded a three-year government contract to help rescue failing secondary schools.

The decision, made in January but never publicly announced, has been met with astonishment and anger by teachers and headteachers.

With the first anniversary of the derailment and death of seven passengers less than a fortnight away, it has emerged that Jarvis has been given a £1.9m contract to help advise the 700 worst-performing secondary schools in England and Wales. Jarvis has never had an educational contract of this type before.

It was condemned as "shocking", "extraordinary" and "a joke" by headteachers' leaders and teaching unions, who say the move shows that official attempts to pull struggling schools into line are becoming dangerously "incoherent".

Unlike the Guardian, I have no idea whether this contract will prove to be a good idea or not. But one point does need to be made about all such schemes. It is this. The government hiring "private sector" enterprises to help run its nationalised system of schools does not a free market make. Hiring Jarvis like this doesn't mean that all the schools which are altered in accordance with its advice will partake of the dynamism, innovativeness and general fizz and creativity of the private sector. It merely means that Jarvis is a collective civil servant.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:06 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[1] [2]
April 02, 2003
What kind of control?

There was an email last weekend from a certain Simon Austin.

I notice that you run an education blog.

Correct.

Is this because you work in that sector?

No but I'd quite like to. My plan is to use this blog to learn lots about education, and thus get a better job than if I just trained and applied, and then got hurled into a room full of juvenile delinquents, which I think is a silly way to start, and a pretty silly thing to be doing at any time..

I am in the wonderful businesses of TV, music and media. Rights ownership to be precise.

I was wondering whether you could comment on the following since I would really love to get your opinion and ideas on this tricky subject:

1 How to attract better people into teaching in the first place, especially Maths, Technical & Science teachers.

2 How to attract people back into teaching once they have left.

3 How to attract professionals who wish to make a radical lifestyle change into
teaching.

4 How to positively change people's perceptions & pre-judgements (usually negative) about the profession.

5 How to improve the media's reporting of the sector to show it in a better light.

The reason that I ask these questions is because I am to make two TV series about these issues over the next two years in addition to all my other light entertainment and factual stuff. I wish to redress the teaching and education knocking that has taken place over he last three years by offering real solutions to these very real problems.

The difficulty that I have is that a lot of the knocking is quite well deserved.

I hope that you will have a few suggestions for me.

Well, not very many, and very few that I haven't done half to death here on several occasions. Here's part of the problem, from an education.guardian.co.uk story today.

Disruptive pupils, league tables, a lack of opportunities to renew their knowledge and budgetary "game playing" are preventing science teachers from fulfilling their capabilities, claims Save British Science, a pressure group aiming to improve the scientific health of the UK.

The organisation has been briefing MPs on the concerns of teachers ahead of a members' debate tomorrow into the state of science education in secondary schools.

The organisation claims that teachers cannot give full attention to their main role of educating and inspiring young people about science, engineering and mathematics, because they are wrapped up in layers of bureaucracy.

But if you believe that "bureaucracy should be got rid of", what control, if any, should there be on the activities of maths and science teachers?

One of the reasons why free market ideologists like me think as we do is that the market not only provides an arena of freedom, but also one of control. It supplies the alternative that is necessary if bureaucracy is to be done away with. In the market, maths teachers with their own ideas about how to do things can offer what they believe in, but if they get no takers, they'll have to change their ways or else stop. No forms need be filled in. No tyrant from London need impose "best practice" with a blizzard of questionaires. The teacher can just get on with teaching. All steps away from bureaucracy towards a free market in education are, other things being equal, to be welcomed.

But if the government is simply expected to hand over money to maths and science teachers without having any control whatsoever over how that money is being used or whether any good teaching is actually occurring, well, you can expect all you want, but it can't happen. The present horror, of bureaucrats out of all control, will merely be replaced by another horror: teachers out of all control.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am an admirer of the Kumon maths system. (I know less about Kumon English but am prejudiced in its favour based on what I've seen of the maths.) Kumon makes use not of brilliant teachers, but of a brilliant system, embodied in a mass of documents and procedures. In its way, Kumon is just as "bureaucratic" as the state system, in the sense that you either do it their way or they won't let you do it at all. The difference is that it works.

Maybe others can do better.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:42 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[1] [0]
March 28, 2003
The educational sector in Korea

The details of this story, courtesy the Korea Times, don't interest me so much as does its overall tone. You surely wouldn't see a British newspaper, of any political hue, talk so candidly about the "education sector".

Foreign universities will be allowed to establish branches here leading local language institutes and other education providers to face tougher competition in the near future.

This is part of the government's recently-finalized plan to open up various service sectors to the foreign market, officials from the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development said yesterday.

The proposal to open up the educational sector will be submitted to the World Trade Organization by Monday as part of the commitment under the Doha Development Agenda that calls member countries to develop a list of ideas to open domestic service sectors to foreign competition.

The ministry said it is inevitable to open the educational service market in the face of the new economic round to increase competitiveness of local educational institutions.

A constant theme here is that if a nation is flagging in its commitment to education, merely chucking teachers at the problem won't change things very much. (Example: Britain.) South Korea, on the other hand, reads at least in this article like a society that contains within itself such an urge towards educational advance that no amount of mere pedagogic inadequacy can hold it back. Demand simply demands its own supply into existence, or in this particular case, it sucks supply in from foreign parts.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:14 AM
Category: Free market reforms
[0] [0]
January 31, 2003
Children not involved

BEdBlog readers may be interested to know that a large slice of the speech I heard the other night by Damian Green is now up and readable at education.guardian.co.uk. As some of us have already explained, the Adam Smith intro was a bit sneaky, but the guts of Green's talk was not half bad, by which I mean half good. And since the good half is what he is saying should now be done, that's good enough for me, given that this man is a front bench politician.

Sample quote:

But this process of centralisation has now gone much too far. The tide of centralisation in education policy which Jim Callaghan set off in 1976 is doing more harm than good. We need to spend the coming decades setting schools free, and giving more choice to everyone involved in education, from teachers to parents. This is certainly the central thread of Conservative policy-making. The key is to ensure that these new freedoms do not lead to another lapse in basic standards, and to do that we need a combination of simple but effective outside monitoring, and genuine parental choice.

But, spot the undeliberate horror. That's right: "… everyone involved in education, from teachers to parents." I remember gasping internally at that last Tuesday. What, the children aren't "involved" then?

The truth is that for the great bulk of the people at whom Green is aiming his rhetoric, the children are indeed not involved. They are to remain the object of a process, not people in their own right who are to have any influence over the process being done to them. The complaint of middle England is not that there is anything fundamentally wrong with process all these children-as-objects, merely that the processing should be done more efficiently. The freedom of mere children is a problem to be got around, rather than any sort of animating principle. Schools must make our kiddies stop wanting to be pop stars and footballers and should turn them instead into doctors and dentists and merchant bankers or, if all else fails, computer geeks. If they're too thick for any of that, at least keep them out of jail and stop them having babies too early and going off to live in caravans or squats or under bridges. That's the attitude. And I don't completely disagree by any means. I just think things could be so much better than that.

In Brianschool, the idea will be that what the children want to do, so long as it isn't criminally nasty, will be the starting-out axiom. Footballer? Fine. Pop star? Great, go to it. Which is why the thing will get very few customers to start with, or probably ever.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:45 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[0] [0]
January 28, 2003
Adam Smith Lecture – "Setting Schools Free"

I've just got back from attending a lecture entitled "Setting Schools Free" organised by the Adam Smith Institute and given by Damian Green, the Shadow Education Secretary, i.e. the Conservative opposition chief complainer about education. It was given within walking distance of where I live and was just about worth the walk, if only to give me something to write about here.

Green said that there is too much state central control of Britain's state schools. The government should stay in the business of funding education, but should reduce its central control, and instead allow parental control to increase and school managerial autonomy to increase with it. Instead of schools being disciplined by a stream of central diktats from the Department of Education they should be disciplined by the fear of competition from other schools which parents might prefer.

The essential change Green proposed is that consortia of teachers, financiers, whoever, should be allowed to set up new schools and compete with the existing ones. The money would follow the choices made by the parents. Education vouchers without the name "education vouchers" attached to it all, in other words.

The government would still be deciding what a school is, and under mild cross-examination from the floor it turned out that Green's understanding of that is probably very different from what the readers of this would like it to be. Hundreds of children all being polite and studious, as in a "good" school now. A bit of hippy-ness would have to be tolerated here and there for the sake of school autonomy. A primary school would need to have a minimum of about fifty children at it. See Holland for the sort of rules he favours.

Damian Green is a new name to me. Based on a few minutes googling during which I encountered the initials "TRG" (which stand for "Tory Reform Group"), it would appear that he is a member of the "wet" wing, the "one nation" wing of the Conservative Party, and accordingly I probably have Conservative acquaintances who regard this man as the spawn of Satan, for being insufficiently rabid in his support for the free market. For being, that is to say, not as rabid in his support for the free market as, to name someone totally at random, me. And indeed I favour an educational world far different from the one that he wants to set about contriving. Professor Dennis O'Keeffe made a little speech from the floor favouring a much more free market approach, from which Green of course deftly distanced himself.

But I can't get very worked up about this fact. It was often the case during the Thatcher years that "wet" cabinet ministers were better at moving towards a free market in whatever it was they were dealing with than were their more overtly ideological and "Thatcherite" rivals, not least because a self-proclaimed Thatcherite ideologist alerted the opposition to the threat being posed, whereas a wet could just get on with things more quietly, while emitting bromidic (is that a word? – it is now) speeches such as the one I've just been listening to. In practice, one step in the right direction is the most that you can ever hope for from these people, and whatever future steps they once dreamed of taking when they were starting their climb up the greasy pole really don't matter that much.

At the beginning of his lecture, Green quoted Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations in support of his support for the principle of state-funded education, and revealed a gaping hole in this alleged support which I didn't previously know about. But I'll deal with that another time.

Not a word was breathed about home education, home schooling, or any such radicalism, which I also cannot find it in me to regret. Ask a man like Green about all that and you never know what might come out of his mouth, and once he's said it, he might then want to tbe consistent.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:33 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[0] [0]
January 21, 2003
Why no private schools for the poor of Britain?

More from Julius Blumfeld

In this week’s Spectator, James Tooley writes of the remarkable success of private education in Africa and India. And he’s not talking about schooling for the elite. These are schools for people who, by our standards, are very poor indeed. The figures are remarkable. Apparently 45% of Ghanaian children go to private school and in Hyderabad the figure is 61 per cent. According to Tooley, this is happening in many parts of Africa and India – all in response to the abject failure of the State education system in those parts of the world.

Why, then, has nothing of the sort emerged here? After all, our State education system is also a shambles and British parents presumably value education no less than parents in Africa or India.

A political culture in which fee-paying schools are regarded as morally reprehensible doesn’t help. No doubt there are also many to whom it would simply not occur to pay for something the Government gives them for nothing. But even allowing for that, my guess is that there are still plenty of people who would willingly stump up a few quid a week to get a half-way decent education for their kids.

The real problem is cost. It‘s just too expensive for most people to send their children to private schools. But why is it so expensive? Teachers are not highly paid and you don’t need much space to start a small school. A church hall ought to do. Or even just a large room in a house. So where are all the small, cheap private schools á la Ghana or Hyderabad?

The problem, I suspect, is that the private school business is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country. As a result, opening a new private school is rarely economic at any price that would make it affordable to the majority of people. And this doesn’t just apply to would-be competitors to Eton. The 2002 Education Act decrees that that an independent school is one with five or more pupils. So if you want to start a little private school with five children, the State piles on a mountain of regulations and if you don’t comply with them, you’ll be shut down or locked up.

So there it is. The State takes over education, makes a complete dog’s breakfast of it and then makes it impossible for anybody else to compete. There’s no law that actually says “small cheap private schools are hereby banned”. But there might as well be.

Julius

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:25 AM
Category: Free market reforms
[1] [0]
December 04, 2002
Piglets with snouts in public trough protest about having to pay (a bit)

BEdBlog readers have been getting far less sense out of me than they should have on the subject of how University education should be paid for. So let I'll let Perry de Havilland of Samizdata take up the slack for me:

Thousands of British students have gathered in London today in order to protest against a Government proposal to introduce university top-up fees. Coming from across the UK, they started marching at noon today (I am pleased to report it is pissing down with rain) in protest against a Government plan to require students to pay for at least some of their own university education.

Thank you Perry. Go there and read it all. (And watch that Samizdata hit rate go through the roof! – ha ha.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:31 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[0] [0]
November 27, 2002
More about Kumon

I mentioned my brief involvement as a Kumon helper, in this post last week. Anyone wanting an outsider's view of the Kumon maths system that doesn't take too long to read, and which emphasises both its methods and effectiveness, and the wider implications of that achievement for education as a whole, may find this helpful. It's part of the Adam Smith Institute "Around the World in 80 Ideas" project, which looks very good, both literally in the sense of looking good on the computer screen and (it seems to me) being well organised and easy and intuitive to use, and in the sense of covering a wide variety of subjects briefly and interestingly.

Sample paragraph:

Kumon's individualist approach overcomes the problems of the collectivist grade system. It allows pupils to move at their own speed: slower pupils are able to move at a pace which does not intimidate and discourage them, and faster pupils are able to move at a pace which does not frustrate and bore them. The method thus allows people to acquire a skill to the maximum level, which their own abilities allow, which will be of enormous utility for the rest of their lives.

Oh, I didn't spot this until now, but I get a mention! Much more important fact: Kumon are now getting seriously stuck in to the teaching of basic literacy. This is a more complex task than maths, but they believe that the same basic methodology applies. I wouldn't dare to differ.

Yet more evidence of the continuing importance, global influence and general vitality of Japan and its culture. There's more to that place than electronic toys.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:07 PM
Category: Free market reformsMaths
[5] [0]
November 02, 2002
Pay as you go

Freedomandwhisky had a piece last Thursday about how the Principal of St Andrews University has been arguing that his university should charge students more and the taxpayer less. I agree. So does Alex Singleton.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:16 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[0] [0]