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Category archive: Vouchers
I’ve been sent a copy of Nick Cowen’s Civitas publication entitled Swedish Lessons. The subtitle is: How schools with more freedom can deliver better education, which tells you roughly what it’s about. I’ve only read the intro so far, but someone called Unity has read all of it, and is full of praise:
It really is very difficult to do the pamphlet full justice without writing a response of similar length and breadth, so perhaps the best I can say for now is that, regardless of your preferred political ‘direction’, if you’re into thinking seriously about the future of education policy in England and entertaining new ideas and new possibilities then I would recommend that disregard what the newspapers have had to say about it today and invest in a copy of ‘Swedish Lessons’.
As a primer for serious debate, it really is one of the best and more thought-provoking pieces of work you’ll read in a very long time.
J. S. Mill is often cited as a liberal, who nevertheless believed in nationalised education. But as this quote shows, he believed in nationalised financing of education, but not nationalised supply:
If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one. It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them.
That quote appears above Anastasia de Waal’s introduction to this pamphlet.
The case against such an arrangement was put here well by the last three commenters on this posting. “De facto nationalisation”. “It’s money coming from the government and it’s bound to have strings. At first there won’t be that many but then ...” In other words, the Swedish/J. S. Mill distinction is not really much of a distinction, The fact that the private sector will get engulfed in the new arrangements will turn out in the longer run to be far more important than an improvement at the bottom end of the state sector in the short run. I find such arguments depressingly persuasive.
Will Nick Cowen supply answers to such doubts? I look forward to finding out.
Yes, it’s Holland, the Netherlands. The how is that they have a variation of the voucher system that we argue for here at the ASI. The parents choose the school, any one of them that they wish subject to minimal licencing requirements and the government pays the bills. Yes, top up fees are allowed, parents making that decision for themselves as well. We might also note that the Netherlands is a great deal more egalitarian than the UK and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it has greater social mobility as well (for those who worry about such things).
Engineers have a saying that you can have “better, faster, cheaper, pick any two” for you can’t have all three. But it appears that we run our current education system so appallingly badly that we can indeed make it better, fairer and cheaper.
I have my doubts about getting from where we are to there, but I am in favour of the attempt being made.
Number 9 of Amit Varma’s Wishlist for India in 2008:
Fund schooling, not schools. Our education system has failed because parents have no choice. Two things can change this. One: We should allow private schools to open and run without any conditions at all. Two: Instead of funding schools, we should give school vouchers to parents, empowering them with the power to choose whichever school they want for their kids.
Follow the link to read Varma’s argument in more detail.