Melissa Benn\’s confusion

So she\’s raging about how because \”free schools\” and academies and the like aren\’t all the same, are not some grey, uniform, controlled by the bureaucrats monstrosity, this is a bad idea. And then she lets this slip out:

Free schools and academies enjoy a range of greater freedoms that will help them to pull ahead in the new competitive schools market.

Yes my dear, you\’ve just conceded the entire point. You\’ve just stated, right there, that the current system, the current lack of freedoms, holds schools back. Thus we wish to abolish those restrictions so that schools can advance.

There is another way for us to frame this entire argument.

We\’re ignorant. We really don\’t know what is the best way to educate children. We\’ve got a few clues, try to keep the drunks and paedophiles out of the classrooms for example. We have a changing world outside the schools as well: technology is changing, society is. We face, in short, uncertainty, and the correct solution to uncertainty is experimentation.

So let\’s try this. And that. Over there, now, what an interesting idea! Yes, those hippies over at Summerhill are a bit odd but chacun a son gout n\’all that.

So, if we want to have this experimentation what\’s the best system we know of to encourage both the experimentation itself and also the picking up, the spreading, of those ideas that work. And of course the closing down, the into the dustbin of historing, of those ideas that don\’t work?

Well, that would be a market system, wouldn\’t it? That\’s what markets actually do. In pursuit of profit entrepreneurs will attempt various different new combinations of available resources in pursuit of some goal which they believe some segment of the population would like. Thus a market based system will provide our experimentation. And more, because entrepreneurs do in fact look at what others are doing (it is very mch a Red Queen sort of thing, a market, running ever faster to stand still) they have the incentive to pick up from elsewhere those forms of resource combination that work.

And basically, that\’s it. We are uncertain about what is the best way to do this educating the anklebiters thing therefore we must experiment. The way that we create experimentation and spread the results of successful such is through a market. Thus we must have a market in schools.

Now all we have to do is kill off Clegg\’s idea that schools must not be allowed to make a profit and we can sit back and watch it all take place.

Which is of course Ms. Benn\’s problem with it all. If others are going to be doing the experimenting, if others are going to be selecting the ideas that do work, spreading those and killing off those that don\’t, if others are doing all of these things then who will there be left for Ms. Benn to tell what to do?

Remember, there is still an aristocracy in the UK. The right people still do insist that the right people should be telling the proles how to live their lives. It\’s just that this aristocracy is now within the State, in the committees, not in the grand Ducal houses.

12 comments on “Melissa Benn\’s confusion

  1. Strange so many of Tony Benn’s children seem to have ended up in politics. I’m sure his political connections had nothing to do with it at all though.

  2. “It’s just that this aristocracy is now within the State, in the committees, not in the grand Ducal houses.”

    This would be Viscount Stansgate’s family we’re talking about would it? (OK not Ducal but still)

    On a more general point I find it very strange that while the left are more than happy to experiment and pursue ideological policies themselves, anyone else doing so or even moving back to a more neutral position is condemned, (by the left), as crazy a experimentalist ideologue.

  3. It does beg the question, why not free all schools from central control and let their heads/management teams and governing bodies make whatever decisions they like? Why not give all schools precisely the same budget settlement and let them run with it?

    Local authorities which provide good value management and support could establish Trusts to continue to do so on a commercial basis in competition with the chain school operators. With their long experience and the benefit of prudential borrowing (perhaps even a beneficial VAT position as has been seen to kill off much of the private sector’s involvement in operating council leisure facilities) they might actually, at least in some cases, be quite successful at it.

    Is it that some people just can’t be trusted to do it?

  4. “try to keep the drunks and paedophiles out of the classrooms”

    Does that help? And is there any evidence that it helps?

    (of course there are reasons for keeping paedophiles out, but I’ve never seen an argument that there are educational reasons for doing so)

    I have a vague memory of a public school headmaster in the 50s or 60s being quoted that of course all his teachers are drunks or paedophiles, because who else would take the job?

  5. I have a vague memory of a public school headmaster in the 50s or 60s being quoted that of course all his teachers are drunks or paedophiles, because who else would take the job?

    Dr. Fagan, of Llanabba Castle, perhaps?

  6. Monolithic is good to the Left – powerful and easy to capture and use. Lots of smaller schools makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to infiltrate and control.

  7. I think this post has finally persuaded me that I’m OK with free schools.

    However, let’s not pretend that everyone on the left is obsessed with control and making everything the same, just as not everyone on the right is obsessed with profit and keeping their kids away from the proles.

    Many on the left genuinely feel that these various alternative models will widen various inequalities and lead to profiteering from the public purse. They honestly subscribe to the idea that we can just make everything better for everyone. That’s nonsense, of course… but the intentions, even if blinded by ignorance/rhetoric/idealism, are good.

    Then, on the right, shall we not pretend that there aren’t plenty of examples of private entirprises taking on state services and exploiting the taxpayer. Shall we not neglect to point out that at the end of every bit of state inefficiency and largesse there is a human being counting the spoils. It’s not hard to see why there is often hostility to private-sector encroachment into things like health and education.

    Tim, whilst obviously having his position fairly well set, is pretty good at reasoned arguments in and around this arena.. but sometimes the comments quickly descend into the sort of rhetoric and simplistic grandstanding that stifles good debate from both sides.

  8. boynoodle

    ” That’s nonsense, of course… but the intentions, even if blinded by ignorance/rhetoric/idealism, are good.”

    To be honest, I don’t care about intentions – the outcome is what counts.

    “Then, on the right, shall we not pretend that there aren’t plenty of examples of private entirprises taking on state services and exploiting the taxpayer.”

    I don’t think anyone pretends that which is why we need to ensure that we want real competition and not crony capitalism. Besides the taxpayer can only be exploited if the government allows it to happen.

  9. Emil

    I agree entirely, it is outcomes that matter – which is why I wish that people who cling to the theories behind the current education models would wise up. However, that’s not to say that anyone should necessarily infer that their intentions are necessarily bad.

    “Besides the taxpayer can only be exploited if the government allows it to happen.”

    Indeed. But the government is people, and so the inevitable inherent weakness in ‘them’ shouldn’t be ignored.. but nor should the weakness inherent in the people on the other side of any transaction. If the government enters into a bad bargain then there is, necessarily, a failure of the market to provide the optimal solution. If we just take government out of the equation altogether then that doesn’t change the fact that there are real people on both ends of the transaction, and risk that the bargain struck will fall outside of the boundaries of what one might consider fair.

    FWIW I’m in agreement with you, but I find it frustrating that people on both ‘sides’ seem to, too often, resort to the least favorable interpretation of the motives of the other. When it comes to educating our children, is it so hard to start from the premise that, say, both Tim and Richard Murphy want a high quality education system which delivers value for both the individual and for society? Even if they have wildly different views as to how that might be achieved. Or, y’know, we can just say that Richie is only interested in improving pay for unionised workers and Tim is only interested in private-sector profiteering.. and neither gives a flying tittyfuck about whether little Mary knows how to read.

  10. “Richie is only interested in improving pay for unionised workers and Tim is only interested in private-sector profiteering.. and neither gives a flying tittyfuck about whether little Mary knows how to read.”

    While its possible that paying teachers more money might ensure little Mary gets to be taught how to read, its by no means guaranteed. Equally its entirely possible that in order to maintain profits little Mary will be left illiterate by her privately run school.

    We’ve had decades of higher spending on education including salaries, and still a fair proportion of State educated pupils leave unable to read and write effectively. Can we at least give the profiteers a go and see if they can do any better? They can’t do that much worse after all.

  11. theboynoodle has a point. I have a close relative who was training to be a teacher but has now become a school librarian, she is a Guardian reading lefty but adamant that poor teachers should be sacked, strong discipline maintained and supports academies, I haven’t asked her what she thinks of free schools but I know that when I do she will actually have given the subject thought and won’t just adopt an ideological position. It’s possible for people to step outside of entrenched positions but that largely depends on them being open to different ideas and actually caring about what happens to others. Guardian readers may be capable of that but not Guardian writers as far as I can see.

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.