A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.



Recent Comments

Monthly Archives

Most recent entries


Advanced Search


A don's life
children are people
Dare to Know
Educating Outside The Box
Elemental Mom
Ewan McIntosh's edu.blogs.com
Green House by the Sea
It Shouldn't Happen to a Teacher
Joanne Jacobs
kitchen table math, the sequel
Life WIthout School
Mr. Chalk
school of everything
Stay at home dad
Successful Teaching
The ARCH Blog
The Core Knowledge Blog
The DeHavilland Blog
To Miss with Love


Mainstream Media education sections



RSS 1.0
RSS 2.0


Adult education
Bits from books
Bloggers and blogging
Brian teaches
Business education
Class size
Comprehensive schools
Distance learning
Educational memories
Famous educations
Gerald Hartup
Grammar schools
Higher education
Home education
How the mind works
League tables
Learning by doing
Middle East
Physical education
Primary schools
Quote unquote
Real life
School choice
Self education
Sex education
South America
Teacher training
The internet
The private sector
This blog
Three Rs
West Indies

Other Blogs I write for

CNE Competition
CNE Intellectual Property
Transport Blog
Brian Micklethwait
(the personal blog)

Category archive: The private sector

Tuesday July 29 2008


Dear Brian,

I saw today’s Ask Slashdot question: How Do You Fix Education?, and thought of you.

This comment mentions making going to school non-compulsory.


Thanks Rob.

The commenter says: (1) Make going to school non-compulsory; (2) Privatize; (3) Do away with tenure and teachers unions; (4) Allow parents to take their kids out of failing schools.  He ends:

Before you reply, or mod down, ask yourself this. If given an unlimited amount of money for schooling your own child, would you send them to a public school, or a private school? If you opted for the private school, you’ve already agreed with many points on this list, even if you won’t admit that to yourself.

I think this is a category error.  Personally, I agree with the list of proposals, apart from (3) the union thing.  What does “do away with” mean?  Make unions illegal?  If so, then: no.  If it means allowing schools to make union membership a sacking offence, then yes.  If you don’t like that kind of school, don’t teach there.

But, putting that uncertainty to one side, the question concerns how you would change the whole system to something that would be good for everybody.  What you would now do or would like like to do for you own child, with the system unchanged, is a different question.  A major point of libertarian thinking, such as this is, is that all individuals deciding for themselves would aggregate into a good (or best available in the real world) system for all.  I think that’s right.  And a major point of collectivism is that this is not right.  Who is right about that is not illuminated by asking what any individual would personally do to escape the present mess.

This is the same argument as the one that says that socialist politicians who send their kids to private schools are being hypocritical, by revealing their true opinions to be different from their publicly stated opinions.  But thinking that private schools are now better is perfectly consistent with believing that state education could and should be changed until that is not so.  My argument with such politicians is that I think they are wrong about how to improve state education, wrong that it is capable of being improved.  I think they are quite right to do the best they can, now, for their kids.  Making your kids go to bad state schools, even when you can afford to do better, purely because you “believe in” state education, i.e. in state education being improvable at some point in the irrelevantly distant future ... now that is creepy.  I know I have said this before, but I think it’s a point worth repeating.

Friday July 18 2008

Coffee House did a posting today about the SATs fiasco, and this comment, from “Sam”, caught my attention:

Now, we must remember that ETS, the American company entrusted with the contract for this year’s SATs grading, was only allowed a look in because of EU regulations. The regulations allowed for a closed bid and the lowest bidder wins. Nothing to do with, say, competence or familiarity with the system? No. I certainly didn’t vote for that, did you? There’s more than Balls cocking things up, that’s for sure!

I can remember when clever Thatcherites were rejoicing at how clever they were to be compelling public sector institutions to buy things from the lowest bidder.  And I can remember lefties saying it was daft.  In this case, the lefties have been proved correct.

Wednesday July 09 2008

Nothing much to say here today.  I’d show you my sick note, if I had one.  So anyway, here are all the schools the cabinet went to, apart from one of them for some reason.  He also did Guardian journos, but that’s harder to find (here), so here it is:

Editor Alan Rusbridger (Cranleigh); political editor Patrick Wintour (Westminster); leader writer Madeleine Bunting (Queen Mary’s, Yorkshire); policy editor Jonathan Freedland (University College School); columnist Polly Toynbee (Badminton), sent the kids to Westminster; executive editor Ian Katz (University College School); security affairs editor Richard Norton Taylor (King’s School, Canterbury); arts editor-in-chief Clare Margetson (Marlborough College); literary editor Clare Armitstead (Bedales); public services editor David Brindle (Bablake); city editor Julia Finch (King’s High, Warwick).; environment editor John Vidal (St Bees); fashion editor Jess Cartner-Morley (City of London School for Girls); G3 editor Janine Gibson (Walthamstow Hall); northern editor Martin Wainwright (Shrewsbury); and industrial editor David Gow (St Peter’s, York), Seumas Milne (Winchester College), the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley - Rugby School and Cambridge University, columnist Zoe Williams (Godolphin and Latymer).

Ah yes, I needn’t have bothered.  I could have just said it was originally from here.  the Guardian kept deleting it, so Guido’s informant said, back in May.  I see that their arts editor-in-chief went to my old school, which didn’t do girls when I went there.  Shame.  I’d have liked that.

I remember a Winchester Milne.  A relative, perhaps?  Used to play against Marlborough at rackets.  Rather well.  Hell of a good game, that.

Tuesday July 01 2008

Indeed.  The Bishop takes a bash at eco-brainwashing in a (private) school:

Not if we should recycle, or when we should recycle, but why we should recycle. The person who wrote this is clearly intellectually challenged. Do they really believe that it is always best to recycle? No matter what level of resources is required? Who would want their children taught by someone who believed such nonsense?

If he can teach reading, writing, grammar, comprehension, manners, then maybe yes.  And perhaps yes because they also want recycling to be taught also.  The market will decide.  The Bishop’s most pertinent complaint is that the teacher didn’t capitalise a film title.

A national religion (and I do agree that this is that) is a very hard thing to resist.  Next: home-ed by anti-environmentalists.

Thursday June 26 2008



In the spirit of spreading the word and looking for constructive feedback, I’d appreciate you taking a quick look at our new baby, Beanbag.

A bit about us: we are what’s politely called ‘seasoned professionals’, we’re all parents and we’re based in Bristol, so we’re well used to the debates about standards in education. We put together Beanbag because, as parents, we wanted as much as possible for our kids, not just state vs private. I suppose you could say that we believe that old chestnut: if it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a whole community to educate one. Beanbag is very much a grassroots project - it’s free of charge to use so we don’t spend on advertising. Anything you can say about us will help. Any questions, feel free to mail me or call 07725 471429.

Kevin Gibson
Beanbag Learning

I don’t now have the time to do much more for Beanbag than just copy and paste that email.  But I do like this, from the About Us section:

Our schools do all they can, but they can’t be all things to all children. There are literally thousands of really good teachers, tutors and education professionals that work outside of the school system. So we can’t understand why it’s harder to find them than it is to find a hire car in Romania.

I guess the good ones are too snowed under doing all the teaching they can manage to be bothering with advertising.

Tuesday June 10 2008

Fraser Nelson links to this Telegraph story, about Lord Adonis’s latest pronouncements about rearranging schools, this time to make them bigger, teaching all the way through from 5 to 18.  Making people who don’t want to do that sounds like a really bad idea, and I agree with Nelson.  Let the parents decide.

However, this story strikes me as rather more interesting:

More parents are taking out loans to pay for independent school fees as the credit this crisis starts to bite, according to a report.

As many as 18,000 parents took out personal loans last year as fees increased to a record high, it is revealed.

The average loan was for £9,065, with experts claiming that applications will rise in coming years as parents struggle with rising energy, fuel and food bills.

The conclusions - in a study by Sainsbury’s Finance - come amid growing concerns over year-on-year fee increases.

Last month, Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools, said that some parents were being ripped off as schools spent money on “five-star facilities” with little education benefit.

But schools insist that increases are due to staffing costs, with class sizes in the independent sector considerably smaller than state schools.

That some of these parents will learn an unwelcome lesson of their own, about the dangers of getting into debt, I have no doubt.  What would be the educational equivalent of negative equity?  A qualification which seems valuable at the time, but which later turns out to be useless, I suppose.  Let’s hope they’ve done the maths.

Thursday May 29 2008


Does an education at an elite public school diminish a politician’s legitimacy? Gordon Brown’s dismissal of David Cameron as “just an Old Etonian” signifies not just his view that products of privilege have no place in politics, but also that the electorate will, as a matter of course, reject him ab initio because of his background.

Boris Johnson’s election as mayor of London appears to have put paid to that idea. There could hardly be a more caricature Old Etonian than the foppish Johnson, but it did not stop voters in the most cosmopolitan city in the world from electing him. Far from seeing him as a pre-modern relic, they relished his postmodern idiosyncrasy.

I think “didn’t stop” is right, and all this may even have helped.  After all, the real story of these elections was that the voters wanted to give Gordon Brown, and his government, and his party, a good kicking.  If that meant putting on Boris Johnson as a boot, so be it.  It was one of those “we’d vote for a pig rather than these bastards” elections.  The worse - the less legitimate, the more risible, the more of a posh pig - many voters still reckon people like Boris Johnson to be, the more forcefully that point was made.

Wednesday May 21 2008

I can’t say I get the details, but what I do get is that kids nowadays are utterly fascinated by their little games consols.  The contrast with their merely grudging acceptance of school work is palpable.  If that fascination could be turned back into physical activity, the health benefits would be huge.

Will historians decide that computer games got a generation of fatties back on their feet again, and off the couch that TV and the early internet had glued them to?

Thanks to Instapundit, who also links to this review, the final paragraph of which reads thus:

So what’s it good for? In fitness, no machine can ever replace the drive to be healthy. Not Bowflex, not Thighmaster, and not Wii Fit. The real difference here is that Wii Fit builds fitness consciousness, reminding us of our body’s state of being, chiding us for bad habits while encouraging the good. And this is while building up the basic fitness necessary to start doing high intensity workouts or sports. It makes exercise feel like a video game, and we all know we can have fun playing those for hours.

But the point is that this machine no longer interrupts the drive to get fit, the way TV did and the regular internet does.

This is surely a far more important cultural development than those damned Olympic Games, the health impact of which mostly is in the number of couch-potato hours spent sat in the couch watching them.

Wii Fit makes exercise feel like a video game
Public school prime ministers
Video of a riding school for children with disabilities
Charles Murray on educational romanticism
Are Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper bad parents for not going private?
What schools provide depends on who is paying and for what
School of everything
On choice and inequality
The Stockholm Network on choice and competition in schools
Madsen Pirie on how choice also helps the poor and weak
Guido says Vietnam is privatising education
Joan Bakewell asserts the Fixed Quantity of Education Fallacy
Posh Posse
Should private sector schools be more charitable or lose their charitable status?
Small Boy is definitely being educated
Very well informed consumers
Home-schooling at Samizdata
James Tooley on how the poorest parents on earth are leading the way in education
Education through rugby
Celebrity death and morbid teenage poetry
Faith fake fudge from Cameron – and I have a sofa bed delivered
Teaching practice was the only worthwhile thing (especially if it was at Eton)
Getting better at teaching Small Boy
“Raffles Education will continue to buy educational institutes across Asia especially in China …”
Summerhill on CBBC
Nothing is owed by the private sector to the public sector
The Indian education business
Amit Varma says fund schooling not schools
Alpha Plus sold by Sovereign Capital to Delancey
The business of Indian higher education
“Market-friendly university without walls …”
Yet another perverse incentive
Coffee House education