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Category Archive • The private sector
November 22, 2004
Expanding GEM

GEM has been mentioned here before, although I think I called it Gems before, which is surely wrong. Anyway, now here's a BBC report about their expansion in England:

The largest chain of private schools in England has bought into the state sector for the first time.

Gems – or Global Education Management Systems - has taken over a group set up to turn around failing state schools.

It recently took over a chain of independent schools, offering what it calls a cheaper, "no-frills" approach to private education at its 13 schools in England.

The company, set up by a Dubai millionaire, has 50 schools worldwide.

It is taking over a non-profit company called 3E's which was the first private firm to be awarded a contract to open and manage a state school.

3E's was brought in to set up Bexley Business Academy in Kent and has a 10-year contract from Surrey Council to run two schools in the county.

It was originally set up as a subsidiary of the successful and oversubscribed Kingshurst City Technology College, Solihull.

A new profit-making company, 3E-Gems Ltd, has been set up to take over 3E's' existing work and bid for other contracts in the state sector.

A trust is being set up to put some of the profits back into the education sector, it says.

Any mixture of state and private sector activity can go awfully wrong, with the private sector only making the state more efficient at churning out the wrong things. Nevertheless … interesting.

And that may be your lot for today. Today it is a Paradise Primary again (before which I have many other things to attend to), and after that I will be socialising. Don't you just hate it when you have a life? It gets in the way of blogging something terrible.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:27 AM
Category: The private sector
[1] [0]
November 10, 2004
Lego – in the middle of the intersecting circles

I think a lot of the success of Lego is that when you read a report like this you don't only think: blatant marketing.

SINGAPORE : Southeast Asia's first Lego education centre opened in Singapore on Thursday.

It features not only a galore of Lego blocks to teach basic physical science to pre-schoolers, but also a Mindstorms programme – which allows students to build robots - using the principles of mechanics.

The centre will cater to students from pre-school to teens and has tied up with local education provider Crestar to offer seven different curriculums ranging from design to physics.

So far, an estimated 800 students have signed up for classes which begin next month.

Four more centres are expected to be launched by 2007. – CAN

It is blatant marketing. Get them young, build brand loyalty, get them addicted. Yet despite all the obvious commercial calculation, this is not like getting kids addicted to potato crisps or hamburgers or rap music videos. Here, you feel, is a case where commerce and education, as claimed, really do go hand in hand. They really might be teaching some real design and some real physics here.

CirclesS.gifAs I ruminate upon education, I find myself attracted by a topographical model of education involving intersecting circles, like those diagrams they use to explain how the different colours come together to make TV work. There are three circles. These denote: the interests of the child, the interests of the child's parents, the interests of the child's teachers. When a proposed item of education occupies none of the circles, no worries, it just doesn't happen. When it occupies only one of the circles, there is conflict. When it occupies two, the third party tends to get bullied into line. The child has to do it, the parents have to put up with it, or a teacher is found who will provide it. Best is when all three areas overlap.

This Lego thing has the feel of being in all three circles. Your first reaction might be: this is only in a completely irrelevent fourth circle occupied by those dubious individuals who hover on the outside of education looking to further their own interests but to make nothing but trouble for children, parents and teachers. Junk food salesmen, sex fiends, etc. But here is a hoverer who has parachuted himself right into the middle of the intersecting circles.

Which of course makes it very clever marketing.


I found this Lego picture here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:20 PM
Category: Education theoryThe private sector
[5] [0]
September 14, 2004
More on the emerging no-frills private sector

I have already reported on Gems, the Dubai-based private education supplier. Here is more, today, from thisislondon.co.uk:

WE have budget airlines and hotels – and now the 'no-frills' public school. 'Economy class' education could become a feature of the British landscape with the emergence of a new kind of independent school.

Dubai-based company Global Education Management Systems (Gems) is planning to open 200 schools charging from £5,000 to £10,000 a year depending on the class sizes and facilities on offer.

The schools may not boast grand settings like Eton, Harrow and Winchester - where fees are up to £20,000 a year – but the company claims they will be a good, affordable alternative to State education.

I didn't get that Gems were "planning" (whatever that may mean) anything so ambitious as this. Well, I do now.

And this report continues:

Meanwhile, the think-tank Civitas, which believes more parents would opt for private education if they could afford it, has hit upon a similar idea.

Today it opens a public school in a rented room at a sports centre in Queen's Park, North West London.
The New Model School has just one class - reception year - and charges £900 a term. It will expand each year until these pupils reach 18 years of age. Civitas hopes to create a chain of low-cost schools.

Former schools inspector Mike Tomlinson has welcomed no-frills schools. But a spokesman for the Independent Schools Council said last night standards might suffer.

Maybe. But the business of the higher cost suppliers might also suffer. Keep your ears open for the phrase "educational cowboys".

Britain might finally be getting Tesco education. Well, Sainsbury education, maybe. Or perhaps "EasySchool". Check out this new school here. And here is the Gems website.

My thanks to Helen for the phone call that got me googling for this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:28 PM
Category: The private sector
[0] [0]
September 13, 2004
More educational exporting

Education as a global industry proceeds inexorably.

Singapore is selling education to Indians:

NEW DELHI – Affordable fees. Global curricula and world-class faculties. Close to home. A 'safe mix' of the best from the West and the East.

These are among the advantages Singapore offers Indian students as it positions itself to be Asia's education hub.

With these advantages, Singapore is a better option than even the United States, according to some parents and students who visited a two-day roadshow that ended here yesterday.

And Dubai is selling education to Scotland (although in this case "Dubai" sounds more like a flag of convenience):

A DUBAI-based company that claims to provide "no frills" private education is to open its first school in Scotland next year.

Global Education Management Systems (Gems) charges fees of £5,000 a year, up to half the cost of a traditional private school. It already has acquired 13 schools south of the border and is now carrying out market research with a view to expanding into Scotland. Its aim is to become the biggest provider of private education in the UK within the next five years.

In the Gulf states, about 40,000 children are currently educated in Gems schools, which are geared to providing high teaching standards rather than luxurious surroundings and facilities.

Sunny Varkey, an Indian entrepreneur who recently signed a deal to take his chain into Afghanistan, heads the Gems group. He plans to use Gems’ position as a limited company to invest in school facilities, claiming it will give him an edge over most independent schools, which find it difficult to raise money for new buildings due to their charitable status.

A spokeswoman for Gems said it had conducted market research and found that there was demand in Scotland for their schools. She added: "It's our intention to expand right across the whole of the UK. We are moving north of the border. I would say, realistically, it will be about a year but if a plot of land came up, it could be much sooner than that."

There's no business like global ed-business.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:30 PM
Category: GlobalisationThe private sector
[1] [0]
July 07, 2004
A teacher who blogs

My good friend Adriana, Queen Bee of this, to whom deepest thanks, emailed me with news of an interesting blogger. The interesting thing being that he combines a substantial internet presence with being a teacher (of English), at Radley College, which is one of Britain's posher private sector secondary schools.

My school used to play Radley at cricket, I vaguely recall. And a very nice man called Dennis Silk, who I fondly remember teaching me English many decades ago, by which I mean he liked my writing and had no criticisms of it to offer of any sort, then left my school and went off to become the Headmaster of Radley, from 1968 until 1991.

Gratuitous Radley picture:


Anway, that's enough about me and my old English teacher. This guy's name is David Smith and this is his Radley Weblog.

The two postings which appeal to me most are one about the Twin Towers, with some lovely pictures, and then this one, in which he quotes Peter Conrad writing in The Observer about the Saatchi art fire:

In the annals of cultural catastrophe, this disaster does not register. We are not dealing with an event such as the torching of the library in Alexandria, that shrine to the muses which, when it caught fire 50 years before the birth of Christ, annihilated an entire corpus of classical literature, including 90 tragedies by Aeschylus and 30 comedies by Aristophanes.

Arson has been on my mind here lately, for some reason.

I don't know if D. R. Smith's Radley pupils read this Radley Weblog, or are intended to. If they do, it must be quite an education for them.

It would of course make particular sense for the readers of my blog here to check out everything David Smith writes or quotes under the heading of education.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:56 PM
Category: BloggingThe private sector
[3] [0]
June 25, 2004
Buckingham University now does teacher training

Finally, a private sector in teacher training:

What business has the state controlling teacher training? Why do we need teacher training institutions? Shouldn't introducing teachers to their craft essentially be a matter for schools? Shouldn't the role of universities be confined to encouraging teachers to reflect on their practice and formulate their own vision of education?

Such apparently subversive questions are prompted by an approach to teacher training being pioneered by Buckingham, Britain's only truly independent university. The programme is supported – up to a point – by HMC, the body that represents the heads of 240 leading independent schools.

This month, 13 teachers, all mature graduates working in HMC schools, will be the first to complete Buckingham's one-year post graduate certificate in education (PGCE).

Okay, it's a moot point just where in the private/public spectrum your average British university is to be found. But this is definitely a small step in the right direction along that spectrum.

By the way, this is the kind of big media story I am happy to link to, obviously (as Alice Bachini would say). This is because, although it may be big media, the story itself is small. Yes, it includes some numbers, but they are small numbers. 240 heads of independent schools, 13 teachers, and above all, just the one university. Thus, the story is likely to have some vague relationship to the truth.

When the big media recycle the claims of the big politicians to the effect that this or that big number (concerning national exam results for example) has done a small percentage shift in the right or for that matter the wrong direction, I find it all much harder to believe in or to be interested in.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:14 PM
Category: Teacher trainingThe private sector
[0] [1]
June 20, 2004
Small school

In education, small is beautiful. That's what these people think anyway:

Next week is officially Small Schools Week, which means that for the next seven days, education pressure groups such as Human Scale Education and the National Small Schools Forum will join forces to harangue MPs and education administrators with their "small is beautiful" mantra.

These organisations believe that, as schools have grown bigger over the years, they have become impersonal "academic sausage factories". Do they have a point? Can children really be taught more effectively in schools with fewer than 100 on the roll?

To find an answer, I went to Ashburton in Devon where, behind the facade of a Victorian merchant's house, is Sands School, a non-selective independent establishment for 11-17-year-olds. It has just 60 pupils. What are the advantages of such a small school?

"Having limited numbers means we can value all our children as individuals," says Sean Bellamy, the head teacher. "In a large school there is such uniformity. Children behave in a prescribed way and wear a uniform. Here the atmosphere is more relaxed - like that of an extended family."

Well, I can imagine some children not liking this particular school at all. An "extended family" of this particular sort might not suit everyone. But if there were a lot of small schools, children could chose a small school that they liked, and dodge the ones they didn't like. Choice would be more than a political slogan, it would be a reality.

At the Sands website, it says it has 75 pupils, rather than sixty. I don't know the explanation for this disagreement.

Last week, the oldest children at Sands were sitting GCSEs, their final exams before leaving. What did they make of their small school? "We have all absolutely loved being here," said Sophie Gibbs-Nicholls, 16, standing among a group of friends. "We have been crying our eyes out because we have to leave.

"It will be weird going to a big college next year, being taught by strangers. I'm not sure how we'll adapt to that."

Sounds like they might like a small college also. Yet, I somehow feel that the whole idea of a college is that it is big, or at least bigger than a small school. Colleges should, in this respect, resemble the world, the bigness of which we all have to face sooner or later, one way or another. But that's just me. If some people want to found a small college, and a small number of people want to attend it, why should I worry?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:39 PM
Category: The private sector
[0] [0]
June 08, 2004
Madsen Pirie says let's have RyanEd

I saw this article in the Telegraph several days ago, but then failed to find it at the Telegraph site. Now I have found it, whether because it has only just appeared, or because it was there all along and I only just found where, I do not know.

Anyway, it is very well worth reading. Madsen Pirie has a different take to the usual right wing buffer position on the private sector, reported on in the Telegraph piece that his piece links to:

Independent schools are too expensive for most people; they provide a service that is bought by only seven per cent of the population. Yet polls have shown repeatedly that most of us would like to send our children to an independent school if only we could afford it.

One of the reasons for their high cost derives, paradoxically, from their charitable status. If they were profit-making companies that distributed their profits to shareholders, there would be incentives for them to keep costs down and operate efficiently. They would try to sustain dividends and share values by seeking savings.

The schools' charitable status has the perverse effect of encouraging them to plough any surpluses into yet more capital investment in facilities and equipment. Money that a private firm would distribute is instead put towards a new library, sports hall or information technology centre.

These additional facilities can be justified as extra selling points. They make the school more attractive to potential customers. The glossy brochure highlights the extra amenities as a competitive advantage, giving the school an edge over its rivals. A school that fails to add a modern science laboratory or an IT centre risks losing potential pupils to those that do. One headteacher recently compared this to an arms race in which schools spend on ever more expensive facilities simply to stay abreast of their rivals.

Let's be clear that it is not the idea of charity as such which is doing the damage here, but the concept of Charitable Status, and what it forbids you to do.

Concluding two paragraphs:

Several educational entrepreneurs are now talking in terms of new private schools that would charge fees not very different from the costs of a state education. The Conservative Party's "school passports" would allow parents to choose such schools as alternatives to their local state schools. These schools would come without the centuries of tradition or the luxurious facilities, but they would offer a high quality education at an affordable price. There could be chains of successful schools reproducing the winning formula and management methods that bring results.

The future of private education may well be one of diversity of products and prices. There will still be luxury private schools at the top end of the market, as there is still British Airways first class travel. But just as easyJet and Ryanair have brought the joys of flight to many more people than could afford it before, so it may be time for new types of fee-paying school to spread the benefits of private education to a wider public.

Presumably Madsen has this kind of thing in mind.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:00 PM
Category: The private sector
[1] [6]
May 30, 2004
Much cheaper private sector primary schools

I've been waiting decades for this headline:

Cut-price private schools set for launch

Here's the story, which is from today's Independent, in its entirety. I don't want anyone not being able to read this in a year's time, and I particularly want to be able to read all of it myself.

A right-wing think-tank will this week launch a national chain of cut-price primary schools in a drive to open up private education to middle-income families.

The first New Model School will start work in September, charging less than half the average fees of many independent primary or "pre-prep" schools.

Teachers have already been appointed, and tomorrow the school starts advertising for pupils to join the inaugural class of five-year-olds.

The programme has been devised by Civitas, a conservative-leaning policy group, which says that both the state and private sectors are letting parents down.

Surveys consistently show that more than 50 per cent of families would like to educate their children privately. In practice, fewer than 7 per cent can afford the fees.

Dissatisfaction with the state system reaches a peak at this time of year, particularly in urban areas, when thousands of parents find their children do not have a place at the most popular schools.

While the average private primary school charges £7,000-£8,000 a year in the South-east, – beyond the means of most parents – the New Model School is asking £3,000.

The school's founders say they have created a blue-print that can easily be replicated, and could help families to opt out of the state system.

"Our intention is revolutionary. It's a challenge to both the public and private sectors," said Robert Whelan, deputy director of Civitas. "Much of the state sector is failing. The independent sector is also failing a lot of parents by not providing a sufficiently wide range of products."

The school, based in an old Victorian building in the Queen's Park area of London, is promising to have its pupils reading and adding up after just one year. French will be taught from the start, and Latin from the age of seven. Its behaviour policy is described as "firm".

The New Model School is still considering whether or not to adopt a Latin motto, but Civitas insists it will not be a "crammer" and will instead emphasise music, art and PE, subjects that Ofsted inspectors have said are often squeezed out of the national curriculum.

Civitas is not the first organisation to question the high fees charged by private schools. The independent sector is already under investigation by the Office of Fair Trading over allegations that schools have colluded to keep fees high - something that the schools deny.

An international firm called Gems – Global Education Management Systems – is in the process of opening its own chain of private schools in Britain at significantly reduced prices.

The former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead is also said to be planning a similar scheme.

But Dick Davison from the Independent Schools Council said that the criticism is unfair, as most of the fees charged by his members are taken up in staffing costs. Lower charges, he said, would lead to fewer teachers, or a lower standard of teachers in many private schools.

I know Robert Whelan of Civitas. He's a good guy (although that doesn't mean I endorse everything else Civitas is saying and doing) and I wish him and all the others involved in this every success. Here's a link to the enterprise.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:27 PM
Category: Primary schoolsThe private sector
[3] [2]
May 12, 2004
"… client growth strategies and consultative sales methodology …"

More news from the world of edbiz:

NEW YORK, May 12 /PRNewswire/ -- Berkery, Noyes & Co., the leading investment bank specializing in the information market, adds Christopher Curran, a veteran of the education industry, to its senior staff, the firm announced today.

Mr. Curran is the latest addition to the senior staff at Berkery, Noyes, the longtime leader in investment banking for the education market. As Managing Director, Curran will provide mergers and acquisitions advice, financial consulting, and strategic research services in the K-12, college, corporate training and for-profit education markets.

Mr. Curran, most recently a Managing Director at Eduventures, Inc., brings a wide range of education, management, and consulting experience to Berkery, Noyes. At Eduventures, a global leader in education strategic research consultancy, Curran managed all business development functions, consulted on client growth strategies, and developed the company's consultative sales methodology.

I suppose this is the sort of verbiage that goes with free market education. I'm for it, I further suppose. But … yuck.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:00 PM
Category: The private sector
[0] [0]
May 05, 2004
Dulwich in China

More news, this time from timesonline (David Carr – thanks for the email), about British educational institutions doing business in Asia:

ELITE British schools are setting up in China to feed a growing appetite for public school education as expectations grow that a ban on foreigners and Chinese studying together will be lifted.

Making the running is Dulwich College International School in Shanghai, which will be the first of four schools that the 400-year-old institution is setting up in China.

The South London school, which already has an international school at Phuket in Thailand, is not alone in looking eastwards for future growth. Harrow and Shrewsbury have schools in Bangkok.

At Dulwich in Shanghai, students will wear a formal uniform of shirt, tie and jacket, with grey slacks, raising the prospect of blazers and school ties on Shanghai’s promenade, the Bund, for the first time since the Second World War.

More Dulwich stuff, from me, here, here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:03 AM
Category: ChinaThe private sector
[2] [3]
April 22, 2004
One more posting to learn from

This looks like a useful site. And the book whose cover I here reproduce (the left of the two below) looks like a useful book. Useful, that is to say, if you wish to acquaint yourself at greater length with the opinions and prejudices of people like me.


Market Education is the culmination of five years of full-time research on a single question: What sort of school systems best fulfill the public's educational goals - at both the individual and the societal level? It is perhaps the most comprehensive investigation of school governance ever undertaken, comparing educational systems from all over the world and from ancient times to the present. To find out more about this book, click here.


coulson1.jpg      patrinos1.jpg

And the review of this little publication (the one on the right) is also interesting:

Despite its brevity (running to just 50 pages), Decentralization of Education is an important book. It describes the World Bank's foray into "demand-side financing," the practice of providing families with financial assistance so that they can purchase educational services in the private sector (rather than having governments own and operate schools). The various case studies discussed reach from the Dominican Republic to Pakistan, revealing just how widespread the practice has become, and how effectively it is reaching even the poorest families.

The book's chief weakness is that it does not seize the opportunity to apply the lessons of its case studies to its review of the academic literature on school choice. The first section of the book is a digest of the (mostly theoretical) arguments that have been made for and against school choice. Since a large portion of this literature is badly reasoned and devoid of supporting evidence, it is frustrating that the authors did not apply what the World Bank is learning about demand-side financing to a critical assessment of the arguments pro and con.

It is also somewhat unfortunate that the book takes for granted a major funding role for the state in education, …

Double indeed.

And look, here's a a brand new blog (well it must have been once), by the editor of the School Choices site. It isn't only education stuff. But he does seem often to focus on the intersection between education and the main news agenda, as here:


The Coalition Provisional Authority has officially handed control over Iraq's schools to the country's own Ministry of Education [free registration required]. No word when, if ever, control will be returned to families.

Saddam, like virtually every totalitarian dictator in history, nationalized or shut down all private schools upon seizing power. The reason why is obvious: it's a lot easier to whip up support for your own regime and antipathy toward your enemies if you control the schools. Centralized government control over schooling is thus key.

What to do?

Iraq's internal religious divisions provide ample prospect for conflict if the nation sticks with an official government school system. Iraqis already realize that settling on a universally acceptable curriculum is a key sticking point.

The solution: implement a market-based education system with need-based financial assistance, and let families pursue the kind of education they value for their children without obliging them to force their choices on their fellow citizens.

Question. Does copying and pasting other people's stuff instead of thinking of it all for myself mean I'm cheating? Why no. This is just one more way to learn.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:16 PM
Category: BloggingHistoryThe private sector
[0] [0]
March 05, 2004
Dynamite education

Ananova reports:

Ms Dynamite is to launch her own school of urban music.


She wants to find budding young street talent and give them a chance to get behind the mic in a studio.

She'll take some of the classes herself, passing on songwriting and performing skills that have helped her win a Mercury Music Prize and a number of Brit Awards.

So Solid Crew and Big Brovaz will also give lessons. Ms Dynamite's school of cool will be named Diddymite and source youngsters from seven years of age to 19.

No venue has yet been found, but the school will be based in Lambeth, South London.

The Sun says she has put an amount of her own money into the project, while also receiving local authority and youth initiative grants.

The academy will run classes during weekends and holidays, and Diddymite gurus will also visit schools.

The school will be run by Marisha Skyers, a cousin of Ms Dynamite's boyfriend, Dwayne Seaforth.

Interesting. My guess would be that the key person here is this Marisha Skyers. If she is good at this, then it might just work.

A common attitude to this kind of thing is that the world needs more "qualified" and "trained" pop musicians like it needs a thousand more holes it its head. But I reckon that children who get excited about something – anything, that is mind expanding and works better if you work at it and which requires being organised and determined and cooperative, are much more likely to make a success of their lives than children who sit in classrooms being bored by more "useful" or "relevant" kinds of life preparation.

Besides which, my understanding of music these days is that the most important instruments involved are electrical and IT based, rather than things made of metal and wood that you scrape or blow down or pluck at. And learning about electrical kit has got to be good, educationally.

I've categorised this posting as "The private sector", and I hope that's right. Anything which spreads educational power away from the State Education Monolith run from London is good news, I think.

I wish them and all who learn with them every success.

Main reservation: "Diddymite" sounds like something you spread on toast and eat, with Ked Dodd doing the advertising. Not cool at all, in other words. But that's me showing my age.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:19 PM
Category: The private sector
[0] [0]
January 06, 2004
Me on the Chinese educational private sector on Samizdata

For the second time today I started doing a piece for one of my little personal blogs, and ended up sticking the result up at Samizdata. First there was this cultural piece, and now there is this, about Chinese private sector education.

Better there than here even for regulars here, because there may be lots of interesting comments. On the other hand, there may also be lots of stupid comments, but that's the chance you take with Samizdata.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:06 PM
Category: The private sector
[0] [0]
December 17, 2003
The USA's educational private sector blunders forwards and upwards

When you read the words "article about education" do you expect soon to be reading something like this? I'm guessing not.

Despite claims of wrongdoing at one top for-profit college, analysts remain bullish on it -- and the sector -- as enrollment surges.

For several years now, stocks of companies that offer college and alternative degrees have gotten high marks from investors for their juicy returns. These outfits' revenues and profits have soared as adults flocked to their schools seeking skills that would make them stand out in a tight labor market. As a result, a $100 investment in Career Education Corp. (CECO) when it went public at $4 a share in 1998 would have been worth $1,000 -- 10 times as much -- by the end of 2002, according to the company's Web site.

But recent allegations against CEC, one of the biggest companies in the business, that student records were tinkered with at two campuses have sent the sector into detention. Shares of the post-secondary educators fell more than 10% on average in the week after the latest charges against CEC surfaced in a Dec. 3 newspaper report. They've since recovered some after Hoffman Estates (Ill.)-based CEC vigorously denied the claims.

You can imagine what an opponent of private sector education would make of this. Profits ("juicy retruns"!) despite wrongdoing, student records tinkered with. But of course to me all this is evidence that even allegations of wrongdoing, let alone the reality of it, are costing people money.

The difference between capitalism and state control is not that capitalism never makes mistakes. It constantly makes mistakes, in fact it makes a hell of a lot more mistakes, because it attempts so much more. (See this blog posting for a taste of the capitalist attitude at a personal level.)

The difference is what happens to capitalism, and to capitalists, when those mistakes are made and then noticed. The news of them causes shares to drop in value and for greedy, selfish go-getters to demand that the mistakes be corrected forthwith. If the mistakes are persisted with, shirts are duly lost and enterprises duly collapse.

When the state makes a mistake it is just as likely to get twisted into an argument that the people who made the mistake should have more money given to them, rather than less. Shutting down anything in the public sector is a huge effort of selfless will on someone's part.

But shutting a messed up business happens automatically, as a natural consequence the way that the system works. Greedy, selfish people demand it, and it happens. Thus it is that, in the private sector, the mediocrity that was acceptable this year becomes, by a process of evolutionary improvement, unacceptable incompetence next year, and the average keeps on getting better and better. Capitalism gets better and better, disaster by disaster.

The USA is now leaping ahead in education. This article, about some of the stupid things it is doing, proves it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:11 PM
Category: The private sector
[1] [0]
December 16, 2003
Basher takes over my old school

Today I bought, for 50p in the local gay charity shop, a copy of the 1998 edition of the Good Schools Guide. There is a website associated with this book, but I have yet to make much sense of it. So here's a taste of what it's like. Here's what they say about the then (and for all I know still) headmaster of the school I went to, Marlborough College, Marlborough, Wilts:

Head (Master): Since 1993, Mr E J H Gould, MA (fifties). Previous post head of Felsted, where he earned the nickname of 'Basher' – one which stands him in good stead here. Looks like a professional bouncer. Read Geography at Teddy Hall, Oxford, collected four and a half blues (rugby and swimming), rowed for Great Britain, etc, etc. Before Felsted was housemaster at Harrow. Comments he is homing in on three main things: 'confidence, morale and attitude – none of which you can pass rules on'.

One or two changes among the governors in recent years and not before time – and fewer clergymen.

Basher. Ah, the delights of a refined education. "Teddy Hall" by the way, is posh speak for St Edmunds Hall, one of the Oxford University (I think – if not then Cambridge) colleges.

Got a nasty headache and need to go to bed, so not a lot of homework today, I'm afraid.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:39 PM
Category: The private sector
[3] [0]
December 10, 2003
It's not the pupils – it's the management

There's an interesting article in the Telegraph about the differences between a state comprehensive school and an independent school, by Matthew Godfrey, who went from teaching at one to teaching at the other. It's not a surprise that he found the latter school to be more civilised. But he believes that the difference was not so much that the independent school pupils were more civilised in their social backgrounds but that the management of the independent school was better. Simply, the government meddled relentlessly in the running of the state school, and didn't allow it to be run so well. Resources were not the problem. The eagerness of children to learn was not the problem. The problem was that the place was badly run.

… the vast majority of 11-year-olds who started at the comprehensive each September were conscientious and bright, too. Apart from a few notable exceptions, their parents were committed and concerned. It was a sad truth, though, that a significant minority of the children soon became troublemakers, and the number increased steadily over time. A year group that the teachers used to call the "gorgeous" year seven had become the "nightmare" year 10 by the time I left.

A lot of this gradual deterioration was a result of increasing peer pressure and other problems related to the pupils' social background. But there were so many other issues at the comprehensive – many of which had nothing to do with the pupils – that I ceased to believe the problems within the school gates were simply a result of what happened outside them.

In contrast, the independence of judgement of the people running Latymer Upper, which was the consequence of Latymer Upper itself being independent of the government, fed through to its pupils being more independent minded and confident themselves. Meanwhile, at the state comprehensive, the nationalised industry syndrome of indolent, ineffective and demoralised management likewise fed through to the attitude and conduct of the pupils. Several times, the management of the comprehensive …

… refused to allow the expulsion of highly disruptive pupils, preferring to send in expensive but largely ineffectual "consultants" to give advice and monitor teaching and learning. Instead of engendering a sense of ownership or pride in the school, they contributed to a growing culture of tiresome bureaucracy.

Consultants. This final paragraph will strike another chord with all those who are the victims of bad management, not just in schools but anywhere:

The comprehensive had a long and interesting past, too, but it was not shared with the pupils or parents. Its future goals were expressed in a hugely long-winded "mission statement", which was so filled with management gobbledegook that it meant nothing to anyone. If it can learn anything from Latymer, it is that a spirit of independence goes a long way to motivate pupils and teachers.

This blog does not have a mission statement. It just gets on with it, free from government interference.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:37 PM
Category: SovietisationThe private sector
[1] [0]
November 24, 2003
"The students awarded the highest marks to the most rigorous and demanding professors"

I hope that Madsen Pirie won't mind me reproducing this entire posting:

Adam Smith famously thought that professors whose pay came from their students performed better. At Oxford, he noted, "the greater part of the public professors have, for these many years, given up altogether even the pretence of teaching." (Could Oxford students tell us if this is still true?)

When I was a professor at Hillsdale, part of my pay was determined by students. We were all assessed by our students, who could add up to ten percent onto our salary. There were widespread predictions that students would favour the teachers who gave easy grades, the ones who handed out an A if you just reproduced lectures or the book.

In fact it didn't happen. The students awarded the highest marks to the most rigorous and demanding professors, even though it was harder to get an A from them. Most students were paying for themselves, and it was value they wanted, not an easy ride. They could tell the difference a mile off, and didn't want to be fobbed off with second rate.

Maybe if such a system were more widespread, it would impel university lecturers to attend to the quality of their teaching, instead of affecting to disdain it in their pursuit of the higher goal of 'research.'

I think that's a clutch of observations that deserves to get around, and I hope this helps. Alex Singleton is also impressed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:38 PM
Category: The private sector
[1] [0]
November 15, 2003
The Indian Spring of private education

One of the great education miracles in the world is happening in India. From the New York Times:

MANUA, India – In this democracy of more than one billion people, an educational revolution is under way, its telltale signs the small children everywhere in uniforms and ties. From slums to villages, the march to private education, once reserved for the elite, is on.

On the four-mile stretch of road between this village in Bihar State, in the north, and the district capital, Hajipur, there are 17 private schools (called here "public" schools).

They range from the Moonlight Public School where, for 40 rupees a month, less than a dollar, 200 children learn in one long room that looks like an educational sweatshop, to the DAV School, which sits backed up to a banana grove and charges up to 150 rupees a month, or more than $3. Eleven months after opening, it already has 600 students from 27 villages.

There are at least 100 more private schools in Hajipur, a city of 300,000; hundreds more in Patna, the state capital; and tens of thousands more across India.

The schools, founded by former teachers, landowners, entrepreneurs and others, and often of uneven quality, have capitalized on parental dismay over the even poorer quality of government schools. Parents say private education, particularly when English is the language of instruction, is their children's only hope for upward mobility.

Such hopes reflect a larger social change in India: a new certainty among many poor parents that if they provide the right education, neither caste nor class will be a barrier to their children's rise.

The writer of the story, Amy Waldman, seems torn between various different axioms, two in particular: whatever poor people in India do must be okay; and: private education bad. How to square that circle?

What's driving this private sector surge is in general, the ghastliness of Indian government schools, and in particular the refusal of government schools to teach in English, which is giving the private schools their sales hook. We teach in English!

Two further paragraphs caught my eye:

If anything should be free, it is primary education," said Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. No developed country, whether France or Japan, had educated itself using private schools, he noted.

Apart from the small matter of Britain, the first developed country of them all, which was deep into its development by the time state education got seriously dug in. The implication, that development somehow depends on state provided primary education is just plain wrong.

And second, immediately after that, comes this:

A recent census in the slums of Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh, found that of 1,000 schools identified, two-thirds were private, according to James Tooley, a professor at the University of Newcastle in England who oversaw the research.

Ah yes, that man Tooley again.

Finally, I note that in India they are calling private schools "public" schools. Ha!

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:02 AM
Category: The private sector
[4] [0]
October 24, 2003
New York New York again – cram schools, the educational benefits of immigration and the Fixed Quantity of Education Fallacy

More from the ew York Times, this time on the subject of cram schools. It reads like the direct response, but four days earlier, to the New York Times article featured in the previous posting here. First few paragraphs:

For children of Asian descent growing up in and around New York City, cram schools are a part of life.

Starting in the third grade and continuing through high school, hundreds of students drag themselves to these private tutoring classes, long a tradition in the Far East, day after day, after school, on weekends and over the summer.

The goal? The schools' signs, dotting storefronts in Flushing, Queens, and other communities with large populations of Asian immigrants, clearly state their ambitions: "Ivy Prep," "Harvard Academy," "Best Academy."

Now, growing numbers of non-Asian parents are enrolling their children in the schools, hoping to emulate the educational successes associated with Asian students.

The key thing here is that if one group of children are rescued by their parents by being switched to the private sector, other parents will follow. The usual theory is that the smart/lucky kids can improve the lot of the not dumb/unlucky ones only by sticking around in state schools and thereby raising the average level of education for all. If they leave, they deny the dumb/unlucky ones their education-enhancing presence.

It occurs to me this is a fallacy that I should have identified and flagged up here far sooner, but better late than never.

I'm talking about the Fixed Quantity of Education Fallacy.

This says that if rich and determined parents buy the best education they can for their smart/lucky kids, they will only be doing this by taking education away from the dumb/unlucky ones, in cases like this by denying the unlucky kids the example that the better kids set in school. If the lucky kids get taking elsewhere, the unlucky ones will sink into abject ignorance and rot there for ever.

In reality, slamming the dumb kids and the smart kids together only makes the smart ones unlucky as well. It dumbs things down for everyone, as the article featured in the previous posting illustrated.

But if the rules are changed from everyone being herded into the same schools and kept there regardless, to everyone going to whatever school they want, the dynamics change, and the total amount of education goes up, big time.

If the smart kids are rescued (i.e. if they get lucky), the parents of the dumb/unlucky kids, sensing that their kids are now being left behind will (a) want their kids to catch up, and will now (b) have the kind of places they need to choose between in order for their dumb kids to catch up.

So, instead of the situation described in the previous (i.e. later) article, where the world is divided into smart/unlucky kids and dumb/unlucky kids, it becomes divided into smart/lucky kids and dumb/lucky kids, with the distinct possibility that eventually all will, because all have now got lucky, all become smart.

All that is needed is for the state to get out of the way and just let it happen. At present the "smart/lucky" kids are working twelve hour educational days. If the state stopped compelling attendance at their rubbish schools, all this could really get into its stride.

The egalitarians should be told to choose between a world in which everyone is unequally unlucky, and another far better world in which everyone is unequally lucky.

This story also demonstrates the massive educational benefits that accrue to countries that allow immigration.

Immigrants contribute obvious things, like sweeping floors. But they bring less obvious benefits, in this case in the form of the certain knowledge that education can be done far better than it is here, because they have cousins back in the old country where – damn it – it is done far better. The trouble with the tenth generation locals of the rich and educationally decadent countries is that they don't know any better. If they're the only ones tracking it, an education system can slide from excellence to ghastliness unchecked. Immigrants do know better. They come from places with shit economies (that's why they came) but with better education. Letting them in means the rich countries get to keep their good economies and can dump their shit education.

As often with me, there have been oversimplifications in this posting. But useful ones, I think.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:45 AM
Category: The private sector
[0] [0]
September 25, 2003
The answer to high prices is … lower prices!

And I also missed (see below) this piece from last Monday:

A chain of independent schools is to be set up to bridge the gap between the state sector and top independent schools by charging "affordable'' fees.

The plans by Global Education Management Systems (Gems), a company based in Dubai, is likely to encourage more parents to avoid the state sector and put pressure on other independent schools to cut fees. The Office of Fair Trading is investigating allegations of fee-fixing by independent schools including Eton and Winchester.

The company has taken over two private schools in Britain and is looking for more. It also plans to build schools on greenfield sites within easy reach of city centres.

Most educational initiatives are just another ton of forms for teachers to fill in, but that one sounds like it just might work.

Is the price of private education getting too high? The government investigates. The free market gets to work.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:20 PM
Category: The private sector
[0] [0]
September 15, 2003
Independent pricing

A posh cartel?

Independent schools today strongly denied that they had engaged in price-fixing to increase fees at the country's most prestigious institutions.

Stephen Pollard says it's just envious statists trying to hobble the private sector, and Natalie Solent, as a nod to the new Pollard website, picks out this quote:

You read that right: Sweden. The most egalitarian people on Earth understand what British opponents of school choice do not: choice benefits, above all, the poor. Swedish councils are obliged to give a voucher representing 75 per cent of the average cost per student in municipal schools to any parent who wants one.

I've long suspected that Sweden is a more capitalist place than it likes to let on. There's a lot more to that place than Volvo, SAAB and Social Services.

As for the price fixing accusation, I guess Pollard is right: whether the independents collude or not, the market is still in charge. There are alternatives to these independent schools. But if the independents are putting their prices up, what does that say about the quality of their state rivals?

The independents don't have an educational monopoly. The statist critics of the independents, on the other hand, do want a monopoly. For the state.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:55 PM
Category: The private sector
[3] [0]
September 08, 2003
Starbucks schooling

David Sucher writes:

Amid world-wide concern that Seattle may not have enough espresso to stay awake and keep up its side of conversation, coffee buffs rallied today in mass demonstration to support espresso and oppose taxes.

What's our alternative to this well-meaning but ill-advised legislation to tax espresso in order to fund pre-school activities? Let a thousand espresso bars offer day care! After all, they are already doing it for the middle-aged.

Yes. But they must also serve ice cream.

See what I mean about how we don't want the government deciding what a school is. Great bloggers think alike.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:35 PM
Category: The private sector
[0] [0]
September 07, 2003
Educational globalisation takes another step

I've written here about the possibility of Brits sending their kids to Eastern Europe in the years to come. (Friends have reacted by suggesting that a more likely development is lots of Eastern European private tutors setting up shop here.) Now here's evidence of Americans who are already sending their children abroad for their education, in this case African Americans, sending their children across the Atlantic for their education, for all the usual reasons that I'm sure you can imagine. That's African African Americans – Americans who used quite recently to be Africans – sending their children back to African schools.

My thanks to Joanne Jacobs for the link, who also comments on the story, linking to someone who speculates that white people might start getting interested too.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:58 PM
Category: The private sector
[0] [0]
September 04, 2003
Too few too big

Every problem in education is an excuse for a new central initiative. And this one is really going to spread happiness everywhere.

Headteachers are being urged to stagger the start and end of lessons to reduce traffic congestion created by the school run.

The move will be part of a government offensive against parents who cause jams during the rush hour when they ferry their children to and from school.

The proposal could have pupils starting and finishing school up to an hour earlier or later than they do now.

But, the plan is likely to be unpopular with parents who have arranged their work schedules around their childen's existing timetables. Some could be forced to make several journeys every day if they have children at different schools.

Other measures will aim at persuading parents to abandon the school run by improving pedestrian crossings, cycle lanes and bus services.

I believe that the central folly here is one that was perpetrated a long, long time ago and which is going to be the devil of a job to unscramble. Basically, there are far too few schools. They are far too big. And the typical home is far too far away from the nearest one. (See also: cottage hospitals. Now also mostly closed down.)

Number two hundred and sixty three of the seven hundred and forty eight and climbing fast reasons why I believe in a totally free market in education is that I believe that a free market in education would have supplied schools for small children – especially small children – which are but an easy walk away from home, for just about everyone. I think there would have been a smooth path trodden historically, from the old Victorian Dame Schools, which were primary schools for one classroom of kids taught by one Old Biddy, to Tescho Primary, Safeteach, or whatever they would be called, which would be competing nationally franchised chains of educational excellence, for quite small sums of money, with very flexible hours, masses of terrific centrally supplied technology for teachers and children to choose from, and just would generally be fabulous compared to anything dreamed of now.

I was on the radio yesterday trashing the public sector, and it got me thinking, again, that one of the very worst things about a seriously nationalised industry, such as education now is, is that people stop even imagining how much better things might be if competing tradesman and charity workers and parents were running the show instead of state teachers harrassed into daily near insanity experiences by maniacally fusspot London bureaucrats, such as the geniuses who are presiding over this staggered school hours initiative.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:46 PM
Category: HistoryThe private sector
[2] [0]
August 18, 2003
Education otherwhere

On the ITV news this evening there was an item about an Indian family in Britain who, disgusted by the educational options offered to them in London, were sending their child to a school back in India.

I believe that in the years to come, many more British children will be educated overseas, especially in Eastern Europe.

A friend of mine, born and educated in Eastern Europe and now living in France, even toyed with the idea of starting just such a school, in her native Romania. She herself was actually in no position to run such a school, and in any case probably lacked the temperament for such a job, but there was nothing wrong with the basic idea. Life in Romania is cheap, compared to life in Britain, as are teachers, but the teachers are very good. Schooling in Romania is only now beginning its descent into the age of television, computer games and violence against teachers. It could have worked. In other hands, I think it will.

The catalyst for all this will be the arrival in Britain of large numbers of legal, well educated immigrants from Eastern Europe, courtesy of the EU. Many of these will be recruited to work in Britain as teachers. But they will have a nasty shock at how difficult teaching in Britain has now become. However, the idea that they might be able to contribute to the education of British children will now be firmly in their minds, as will the low level of education here. Eastern Europeans are frequently shocked at the low quality of individual people in the west, in such sharp contrast to the high quality of so much of the mere stuff that is made here. So they mostly don't now see this opportunity. But once they get here, they will. So, some of them will go back home again and get it organised, while others remain here to do the selling job.

Well, we'll see. I'm not the entrepeneurial type myself, so this could be nonsense. But as of now, I can't imagine why.

No links because I thought of this myself. But if anyone can suggest any ...

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:50 PM
Category: The private sector
[3] [2]
August 12, 2003
Carry on schooling

I only started watching That'll Teach 'Em (Channel 4 – Aug 12 – 9 pm) because of still needing something to put here after another drainingly hot London day, spent basically doing other things, but oh boy, it's hilarious. The entire show is poised at the edge of a cliff and threatening to plummet towards pure Monty Python insanity.

It's like a brothel, but without the sex. Not very good actors stride about picking arguments with the boys and girls, and the usual procedure would then be for the customers - which is what he would be - to have an orgasm. But this is a serious, or as serious as it is possible to be about such things, to recreate a "nineteen fifties" public school education.

The programme brings out all the snobbery in me, that is to say of a boy who went to a truly posh school, or who thinks he did. Mine was called Marlborough, pronounced Morl-brur. And I remember Marlborough as being a more relaxed, more decadent sort of place. We all assumed that it was only the "minor" public schools (public means the opposite for these purposes – sorry America) who took all this stuff truly seriously.

The teachers at this TV place are, frankly, not as posh as the ones I remember. They have no irony, no humour. Only the tremendously exciting English mistress seems to have the real Posh Stuff. The teachers here do have their virtues, but they remind me of NCOs, rather than officers. They are mostly deadly serious sergeant majors who shout about everything they see that is wrong rather than languid colonels and brigadiers who see much, much more than they can be bothered to complain about.

But we never had anyone like that English mistress.

If you're interested, the best explication on film of sort Iof place I went to is not this programme, but Lindsay Anderson's If, which is outstanding. The weirdest thing of all about these places was the way that they sprayed Christianity all over the Caesarian savagery. They're doing that as well at this TV place. But Lindsay Anderson does that outstandingly. Who could forget the priest who is kept by the Headmaster in his drawer. (You have to see it.)

Still, this is a great show and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

As always when it comes to adapting, the girls are adapting to it all far better than the boys. The girls are enjoying it. They are becoming fifties stereotypes – Stepford schoolgirls. They are knitting scarves for their brothers back home.

The boys - and good for them – are just waiting for it to end. But even they are starting to come round.

Even for them it will have been a learning experience. They will have experienced a very different way of doing things. There's nothing like a shared ordeal lived through. Some of them will be friends for life.

The best thing about this show is that it so very clearly illustrates that such a place would now be unrunnable for real. Interestingly, and extremely importantly, they are not using very much physical violence at this place. But you can't run this kind of old-fashioned totalitarian regime without extremely serious physical violence. Without the ultimate sanction of the cane, or at least some kind of comparably severe torture, these places don't function properly. After all the humour and irony had been exhausted, if I didn't do what those bastards at Marlborough told me to do, then I was physically assaulted. And if that didn't work I would have been expelled, an option which I wish I had explored more thoroughly than I did at the time. (Put it this way. I am often able to startle the ex-victims of Communism with my grasp of the finer points of Communism, what it was and how it worked. How the hell did you know that? – they say, of some weird communist nuance. Easy I say, I went to a British public school.)

In this programme they have contrived a few pretend tortures, basically endurance tortures. But the hardcore stuff? - that they have shrunk from imposing on these children. You simply can't do this kind of thing now.

Which means that the entire pyramid of power crumbles. Everything has to be done differently. The boys on this show are waiting for it all to end. And after all, it's only a TV reality show, not reality. But if there was no end in sight, and if this was for real, they might well have rebelled by now.

And equally important, there simply aren't the teachers any more to run this kind of show. Simply, we don't believe in this kind of regime any more. We look at it, and we can't help bursting into giggles.

Carry on schooling? Like they did in the nineteen fifties? It can't be done.

If we are going to deny ourselves the ultimate sanction, namely torture - and that is precisely what we are now doing – then the entire way that the lives of children are governed is going to have to be painfully re-invented. This is one of the central beliefs of this blog. This process has hardly begun. But at least it has begun.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:49 PM
Category: Boys will be boysHistoryThe private sectorViolence
[1] [1]
July 16, 2003
"Facilitating" the private sector in Pakistan

More news that the educational private sector is impressing people in some surprising places:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: July 15 (PNS) – Federal Minister for Education Zobaida Jalal Monday said that a facilitation cell will be established to facilitate private sector schools and institutions to help them in getting registered with government to resolve the row between CDA and the private schools management committee.

Presiding over a meeting with Chairman CDA Chaudhry abdul and the representatives of private schools management committee she said that government would take all necessary steps to facilitate and help the private sector in the field of education.

She maintained that private sector should be encouraged so that it can help the government in uplifting the standard of the education in the country.

Not that any of this is particularly good news for private sector education in Pakistan. When politicians talk of how they will "facilitate" and "help", and how this or that will be "encouraged", look out.

First will come money, then the nagging and the threats, then government control. I hope I'm wrong, but I fear that I am right. With luck, there won't be any money. This is the big educational advantage that the Third World now has over the First.

Much better is government indifference, because then they leave you alone to get on with it. Even better is malign indifference, because then they really leave you alone to get on with it, and are positively proud of themselves for knowing nothing about what you do. Perfect.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:35 PM
Category: PoliticsThe private sector
[2] [0]
July 03, 2003
Dulwich in Shanghai

In a rush to do my Education Blog duties I trawled through the National Press, which I try not to do too often, because this can get very boring, especially when it involves the impossible-to-answer question: Are Things Getting Better or Are Things Getting Worse?

Anyway, the most interesting thing I found was undoubtedly this piece from the Guardian:

Some of the most historic names in British education are cropping up all over the far east as public schools begin to tap the vast and lucrative markets of China, Malaysia and Thailand.

In two months' time, Shrewsbury School, alma mater to Sir Philip Sidney and Charles Darwin, will open its first international branch in Bangkok. Last week Dulwich College started work on a new Chinese franchise in Shanghai, adding to its Thai branch on the island of Phuket. It may also open up a branch of Dulwich in India. Meanwhile Harrow, whose former pupils include Winston Churchill and Pandit Nehru, has a franchise in Bangkok.

Students from the Pacific rim are also flooding into fee-paying schools and universities in Britain. While British politicians praise the whole-class teaching and high standards they see in Asian classrooms, many in the far east see a British education as offering tradition and status combined with a more liberal, humanistic approach than their own schools and colleges.

Day pupils at Dulwich College International, Shanghai, will have to pay more than £3,000 a term, for example, roughly the same as their peers in south London. Under Chinese law, only ex-patriate British, Taiwanese and Hong Kong citizens can enrol, but the school says it hopes the restrictions will be lifted soon.

This is classic globalisation. Imagine how easy it would (not) have been to run Dulwich College International, Shanghai, in the year 1900. And imagine how much easier it has recently got, now that there are emails and cheap international phone calls and cheap air travel. Ergo, it happens.

What's the betting that in twenty years' time, the best schools in the world (far better than British public schools in Britain) are the British public schools in the Far East? Not at all impossible. After all, the British run Government of Hong Kong was one of the world's best (and much better than the British run Government of Britain), until it was shut down. Why might not the same benign cultural interaction happen again, educationally. Our best teachers will go to these schools, because they will like the eerily good discipline. And their best kids will flock there, because they love the free and easy atmosphere, unlike their local schools where they get beaten to death for Looking At The Teacher In A Funny Way.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:49 PM
Category: The private sector
[1] [0]
March 27, 2003
Philip Hensher on Westminster School

Natalie Solent links to a delightful article by Philip Hensher earlier this week for independent.co.uk about Westminster School, which is a literal stone's throw from my flat, although they seem nice enough boys and I'm never tempted actually to throw stones. Hensher had written an earlier article attacking private education, and so now he's taking a close look at what he criticised, the way you do, so that he can say yes to the question about whether he's ever looked at one of these places close up.

So he made his day trip, and he captures all manner of things very well. In lots of ways he's impressed. However, he does capture the ghastly confidence of privileged boys of that age particularly well:

I had lunch with some of the Queen's Scholars, whose fees are partly, and in some cases entirely paid on their behalf. None of the ones I met was from a noticeably different social class from any other boy, and their manners, over a spectacularly repulsive sausage in a bun (I went away and had lunch in Soho afterwards) were exactly the same. They took me to task in a grand way over my original article, and when I was not to be goaded, moved on to other columns of mine they had found on the internet, to them, no doubt, just as inexcusable. The words "Let us move on, now, Dr Hensher, to what you wrote in November last year about the Brighton pier" were never actually uttered, but it was a close thing.

Bored, I took charge and asked them what they were going to university to study. One boy was going to Oxford to do English with Russian. "I don't know whether it's changed," I said sociably, "but in my time, you were handed an Anglo-Saxon grammar and a copy of Alfred's letter – King Alfred, you know, to some dull bishop – and told to come back next week with an accurate translation. Rather terrifying, actually." "I expect," the boy said generously, "that if one has some knowledge of languages, it is rather less terrifying." I made no response. It would have been easy to suggest that there was no reason to think my grasp of three European languages had been any less than his own. I also wondered whether, when I was 18, I would have so confidently talked down to a visiting novelist of some small celebrity and critical regard old enough to be his father. I would have it no other way; I wish I had, in fact, had something of that confidence. But by money and social class I was barred, and in some ways still am barred, from that certainty.

One of the relentless messages of these places is that you are indeed privileged. You are getting a superb education. All others are far less fortunate. Those who go to less grand fee-paying schools are inevitably less superior persons. And Heaven help those who go to state schools. I know what this is like, because for a decade this was my world also.

But it's hard to imagine how any school system could ever be completely otherwise. Suppose, as Hensher recommends, that all social classes were forced into each other's company, by the illegalisation of fee-paying schools, or by their incorporation into the top reaches of the state system, with the cleverest poor children being shoehorned into what are now the poshest fee-paying schools, and the dumb hooray-Henry or nice-but-dim Tim types elbowed aside into bog-standard comprehensives or the like, to make way. What you would get would be John Hughes high school movies, riddled with class warfare. There'd just be different miseries and different humiliations, different triumphs and different varieties of arrogance.

A prison is still a prison. If you have to go to one of these things, and when there you are the object of an industrial process that is done to you rather than the subject of a life that is done by you, you'll take it out on others. There'll be class warfare, and pecking order savageries.

Even if, as I favour, you release the boys (the boys especially) from prison and let them run their own lives, they'll probably find new ways to be insufferable. Allow them to be film directors, futures traders, ditch diggers and private detectives at fourteen, and they'll still find ways to piss off the likes of Philip Hensher. If you fancy yourself as a mini star in middle-age world, teenage boys who don't know you and don't especially want to know you are going to get under your skin, politely or rudely, but one way or another, no matter how the education system is configured. You'd still have verbal dog fights with the younger dogs, and do sneaky things like letting them have the last word on the day without fighting back, but then writing your last word in The Independent. Not the least of the pleasures of this piece is what a ruthlessly revealing self-portrait Hensher supplies. Simply, he takes himself more seriously than they all do, teachers and boys alike. It's a genteel dog fight from the moment he sets foot in the place, starting with them getting his name wrong, and him getting huffy about that.

As for what he thinks should be done about it all, Hensher doesn't just exaggerate how much social melting would go on in his big nationalised educational pot. He also forgets how much worse all schools would become if (a) present Sovietisation trends continue in the state ssystem, and if (b) schools which are presently semi-independent of the official national system such as Westminster get much more completely swallowed up in the same mess as well, as he recommends. What Hensher is arguing for is a system that he hopes would be equally better for all, but would actually be unequally worse. It wouldn't achieve equality of happiness; just more and unequal misery.

However, my basic point is that Hensher's is a good piece. He went to a particular place and recorded what he actually saw and heard, and how he felt about it. I don't share his policy prejudices. Nevertheless this is real stuff, not waffle based on phoney statistics such as you so often get in the national education media pages nowadays. I recommend the whole thing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:33 PM
Category: The private sector
[0] [0]
January 24, 2003
Prizes for all - private-school style

Article by Alice Thomson in the Telegraph. Claims (I have no way of knowing whether it is true or not) that private schools in the UK will, when confronted with non-academic pupils, seek to find things that they can excel at. She contrasts this with the state approach in the same situation which is to prevent anyone from succeeding.

Also includes the claim that state education (on a per child basis) is now only fractionally less expensive than the private sector. Again, I have no way of knowing whether it is true or not but it is pretty devastating stuff if it is.

Posted by Patrick Crozier at 05:00 AM
Category: Economics of education The private sector
[0] [0]
November 05, 2002
Spanish practices

Spangolink (actually, I think they prefer to call themselves Inside Europe: Iberian Notes) have an article dealing with the scandalous situation surrounding the English language industry in Spain. It's a bit of a shocker.

Just because something is private doesn't mean it is any good.

Incidentally, having looked at the situation over in Japan recently I got the impression that things over there aren't so different.

Posted by Patrick Crozier at 03:30 PM
Category: The private sector
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