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

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Next entry: Txtducation
Previous entry: New York schools play cricket
Monday April 07 2008

Blogs like the Spectator Coffee House blog keep tabs on Conservative education policy so don’t have to, and this posting seems to sum up the present state of play in the government controlled bits of the education system quite well and what the Conservatives have in mind to try to improve matters.

I am starting to think that there are two huge principles that need to be accepted if Britain’s inexorable ... call it disappointment ... is to be replaced by something more optimistic.

First, parent power has got to be re-established, for all parents and not just for reasonably good parents with lashings of money.  Something like education vouchers will be needed.  My preferred version of education vouchers is the best sort of vouchers there are, namely: money.  But, I quite understand that that’s a political non-starter for the time being.  Not that this will stop me trying to find out as much as I can about genuinely free market and voluntary enterprises along the lines of Kings Cross Supplementary, if only as a means of spreading the idea that this will eventually be the best way to do things.

What won’t work is merely tinkering around with the powers of the government.  For instance, it may be a short term improvement to shut down a bad old government school and build some new government schools, and to sack the previous managers (the local authority) and replace them with new management (a “private sector” education provider).  But sacking civil servants or local bureaucrats and replacing them with government contractors makes no fundamental difference, and government contractors have a horrible way of degenerating into corrupt parodies of government departments.

So, there must be parental power.  And that means parental choice.  Parents must be allowed to choose schools, and unchoose them if they don’t like them.  A market will be no use if the government merely becomes the sole customer in the market.  The parents must be the customers.  Their vouchers must be theirs to spend on whatever they like.

But something else is needed, which is an explicit rejection of egalitarianism.  If vouchers are introduced, good parents will make good use of them, quickly.  But what of bad parents?  What about the bad children of bad parents, unchosen by the schools of their first choice, as must be allowed.  To start with, they won’t know what to do with their choices, and other people’s choices will hurt them.  They’ll have to learn, which may take time, as will the process of expanding the supply of education to the point where formerly bad parents start to see some point in learning about the new opportunities they now have.  While this is all going on, educational inequality will surely increase, because the big immediate change will be that the bad education now forced upon good families will quite quickly get better.  Won’t it?  Are the politicians ready to grit their teeth and tough it out, while bad parents slowly work out that it might be worth them becoming good parents again, now that good choices are slowly starting to come on stream for them?

To put it another way, progress always bring inequality, because as soon as the entire caravan starts to move, it spreads out across the desert.

Speaking personally, and to repeat a point I have surely made here before, whenever I do any teaching, I am a total disbeliever in educational equality.  I actively disbelieve in either equal educational provision or equal educational outcomes.  I want the kid I’m teaching to get massively better than average teaching, and to do massively better with his life as a result.  I want my pupil to be obscenely privileged.  Whether he is obscenely privileged when I teach him is another matter.  But that’s what I’m aiming for.