A good opportunity to improve education?

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Balleh, Oct 2, 2009.

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  1. With acknowledgements to The Daily Telegraph, 2 October:

    Anders Hultin wrote:

    At the heart of the Conservative reform agenda – and perhaps its single most radical element – is the idea, borrowed from Sweden, that parents who are unhappy with their child's education should be allowed to create new schools.

    It is a plan that has the potential to transform education in Britain – but already, the same doubts are being raised that I heard in Sweden back in 1992, as an adviser in the education and science department. Who on earth, we were asked, would want to set up their own school? Surely low-income parents don't want choice – they just want their local school to improve?

    The opposing parties thought the policy such a dud that they didn't even bother to attack it. Even we had our doubts. Our proposal was fairly simple: anyone could set up a school, and be paid the same per pupil as state institutions (actually, to begin with, a bit less). But in our heart of hearts, we did not expect a rush of applicants. This is a symbolic policy, I was told by a colleague. It was in our manifesto, so we have to honour it.

    Perhaps governments should have a bit more faith in the people whose lives they seek to organise – because once we put our "symbolic" policy into practice, and handed power from government to communities, the effect was extraordinary. A thousand flowers bloomed. Or, more accurately, the number of independent schools grew from 80 to 1,100 – educating 10 per cent of all pupils in compulsory education and 20 per cent of sixth-formers. The drive and energy came from outside government: we in the education department just paid the bills. This, perhaps, explains the success: it was a grassroots revolution. Where communities were unhappy with their school, they did not need to petition parliament or local government. They could find a school provider, and set up a new one.

    So far, so good – but the Tories are making a crucial mistake. Of our new breed of "free schools", 75 per cent are profit-seeking. That's because schools that are paid per pupil tend to expand as fast as demand requires – if they are oversubscribed, they will open a sister school rather than build up waiting lists.

    But in order to expand, they need to have money. Without the profit element, the research showed, most of our new independent schools would have been very small, and most would have had a religious purpose. The Swedish model that gets so much international attention today – not least from David Cameron and his education spokesman, Michael Gove – would not exist without the acceptance of profit-making organisations.

    The Conservatives, however, are planning to keep their "Swedish schools" profit-free and rely on charities, voluntary groups and other philanthropic types. It would certainly buy a little political protection from their ideological enemies, who would otherwise accuse them of trying to privatise the education system. But is it really the Tories' ambition to create a small number of very good schools with long waiting lists? Such schools may be free to the users but, like the best state schools today, they would be exclusive, luxury destinations for a few privileged people. Is that really the education revolution Cameron has planned?

    The truth is that, having lived in England for some years now, I can think of no country better suited to the Swedish system. Reading the newspapers, I am stunned at the lengths parents go to in order to place their children in good schools, or save them from bad ones (and the lengths councils go to in order to stop them, for example by spying on parents whom they suspect have given false addresses).

    This huge – and unmet – demand for quality education is one of Britain's untapped resources, and the Conservatives will find a great appetite for new schools. But Mr Cameron has a choice. Does he want to roll out the supply of these schools quickly or slowly? That is to say, will he allow profit-making schools, or leave their management to groups who regard waiting lists as a badge of honour?

    If he is really worried that allowing schools to make money will mark him out as Right wing, he shouldn't be. Just a couple of weeks ago, Sweden's Social Democrats dropped their opposition to profit-making schools, saying that their sole concern is whether schools are performing well or badly. They could hardly do otherwise. After 17 years, it is clear that the chains of for-profit schools – one of which I founded after I left government – have greatly helped social mobility, giving low-income parents a choice of school available in England to only the rich. It would be odd to think that the Swedish Left is more relaxed about profit-seeking schools than the British Conservatives.

    Mr Cameron has spoken eloquently about how school reform can change the balance of power between the government and the people. And so it can: but only if he moves quickly, and makes the tough decisions in his first few weeks in power. Among the most important will be to realise that "profit" is not necessarily a dirty word.
  2. And your point is?
  3. "Oooh, and that's a bad miss." :D

    Actually, though, it's not a bad idea in theory. I'm all in favour of making people responsible for their own mess for once, the downside to democracy being that people tend to think wanting equals being entitled to for as long as they can just vote for it.

    A technocracy would be far better, so long as everyone had a certain level of expertise. I think that's what democracy was originally intended to be.
  4. I would have thought that was evident in the topic's title but since you ask; I believe this is a good way of improving the country's education.

    Parents get what they want and teachers have to perform otherwise the school closes and better ones get the benefit.

    It will of course offend the limp wristed who believe that profit is profane but that is tough, life is based on profit.
  5. Short answer: neither the profit model or the non-profit model would help the UK.

    The 'for-profit' model would simply create a new level of subsidised private education in the UK. The Conservative plan would see money that would otherwise have gone into state schools go with the pupil to the new private school, together with (and this isn't highlighted in the article) a modest top-up fee (say 2K a year) provided by the parents. By shifting a vast number of pupils whose parents can afford a small contribution, you'll create an educational apartheid ten times worse than the one that already exists via parents having to buy expensive houses in the catchment areas of good school. Think of it as a grammer school system that depends not on above-average intelligence but above average wealth.

    The 'non-profit' idea won't work because frankly their isn't enough social capital in this country to allow more than a handful of schoolsto form outside of religious groups.

    Such things work in Sweden for two reasons. Firstly, their society is far more socially cohesive than ours - they didn't get dragged through the free-market hedge backwards like we did - when they reformed their economy they only adopted the bits that worked. As a result, they don't have the (economically sourced) social problems we have in our schools. The irony therefore is that the Conservatives are looking at a Swedish solution to a problem Sweden never had. A second related issue is that Sweden has a far higher level of economic equality than we do. There isn't a rush by the elite to get into the best school via a nearby house or for a fee because their is little difference in Sweedish school quality because their arn't the festering pockets of poverty in Sweden that we have here - everyone is more or less in the same boat. It you can't or don't want to one way or another pay extra for a particular school, you arn't faced with only crap alternatives.

    What is truly vomit-inducing is that it's ideas like this that prove the Conservatives haven't learned a thing. They seem to have forgotten that it was their free-market policies that got us into this social mess that is reflected in our schools in the first place. And what do they think will solve it? The market! This shows all the policy making skill of someone who drinks a bottle of vodka to dull the pain caused by cirrhosis of the liver. What is even more terrifying is that there is no way on gods earth everything I've just written wasn't pointed out to the Conservative Party delegation by the Swedish themselves. They are either so insane that they think repeating 'well it worked in Sweden' is all the policy basis they need with the British public, or spent their trip to Sweden so high on the idea of handing education over to the private sector that they opted not to hear the details.
  6. Nothing wrong with profit. The idea just wouldn't work in the UK. Or rather it would work, but only for a few people.
  7. 'Balleh's' post is the most erudite and interesting post I have seen here for some time. Intelligent and well presented. That said, I doubt the ideas will be able to compete with the mantra:

    Education. Education. Education.

    Sadly, said mantra was merely a meaningless 'Bliar' 'sound-byte' and after nearly fourteen years of mis-government, so many, thirty in a hundred, children leave school unable to read, write or calculate properly. Are you proud of that statistic 'Mr. President'? - you fourth rate non-entity.

    Poor youngsters, their educational future is now in the hands of the bulging eyed 'class warrior' Balls.
  8. That is arrant nonsense.

    Most of the independent schools are charities = not for profit. Why would they be less efficient if they were for profit?

    Ever since I can remember, it has been a source of angst in certain quarters of the population that independent schools get the highest ratings in GCSE (O levels before that) and A levels, resulting in them being disproportionately represented in tertiary (university) education.

    I have never understood why it is considered necessary to penalise the independent sector for its success. Why the hell not mimic it to the point that it becomes irrelevant?
  9. Err...Build some more grammar schools?
  10. we already have a good independant sector it just covers 5% of the population rest can't afford it and never will be able to afford it
    £19000 to £28000 per yer per secondary school boarding pupil

    £5000 per year per state school


    its not that independant schools are so magically better its just they get 4x the amount of resources a state schools get
  11. There is good evidence that in Africa even the poorest of families will bust a gut to pay towards their childrens' education. It may be a pittance but it gives them influence over the school.

    If the UK can operate state schools at a per capita rate of £5k per year then even a paltry contribution of £50 per year by the parents will significantly add to the school's ability to perform.
  12. to be fair give credit to dave to go looking at a country rather than the US.
    which seems the default postion of our politcal class.
    pity he missed the rather important points.