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A Decent Schools Policy

Mr. Heffer finally says something I agree with wholeheartedly.

Nor can the Tories brook the dirty word "vouchers", even though that is what the system cries out for. Their policy should be simple. Abolish local education authorities and charitable status, zero-rate all schools for VAT by law, and then hand out a voucher that would not only be a small compensation to fee-paying parents for the loss of charitable status, but would reward them for taking such a burden off the state.

Under such a plan, the state system as we know it would vanish. All schools would be independent, freed of LEAs. The voucher could be used in all of them, whether formerly state or formerly independent.

If you really want to break down the barriers between the two systems, want to drive bad schools out of business, raise standards in the rest, take the politics out of education and give everyone a crack at "elitism", that is the way forward. It would allow choice for parents, and choice for schools too: they could select by whatever means they wanted, or not at all.

Some schools would be more expensive, just as some shops are. Why should the market, which can do so much to improve education, be kept out of it? And why should the Tories be so embarrassed and fearful?

With the sole excecption of the ability to top up the voucher that is indeed roughly what happens in such disgustingly inegalitarian places like Sweden, Denmark and Holland. Finland, usually appearing as the top school system globally when such things are measured, also has a variation. So why are people so opposed to it?

Why is it that people cannot understand the most basic truth, that some things are simply too important to exclude them from the market?

12 thoughts on “A Decent Schools Policy”

  1. The most important thing about ‘the market’ is that things are sold retail, rather than through contracts handed out to sweetheart providers, nominally not public sector but in practice still indifferent to the needs of the consumer

  2. “except they cannot zero rate them for VAT if they have not already been zero rated because of our old friend the EU wouldn’t allow it.”

    That assumes that the EU would say “no”. Why would it?

  3. Excellent sentiments, but he is wrong on two technical points:

    1. The value of charitable tax breaks is only a few hundred pounds per pupil, and is probably regressive, i.e. the value to old, rich establishments is far higher than to smaller, less wealthy schools. These tax breaks are a red herring, scrap ’em.

    2. Schools are VAT -exempt, that means they don’t charge VAT but can’t recover input VAT. Making them zero-rated means they still don’t have to charge VAT but can recover input VAT, so ultimately the effect would be much like the charity tax break and adds to the admin and faff.

  4. Abolish local education authorities

    The government doesn’t have to abolish LEAs. With the money going as a voucher to the parents, all they have to do is give each state school the unilateral right to withdraw from LEA control if they wish, and withdraw any powers from the LEA to stop new independent schools being created.

    If the LEAs offer useful, cost effective services to schools, they will survive. If not, schools will opt out and the LEA will lose its funding (now bottom up rather than top down). Let the market decide.

  5. “If the LEAs offer useful, cost effective services to schools, they will survive. If not, schools will opt out and the LEA will lose its funding (now bottom up rather than top down). Let the market decide.”

    Very much so. Schools can purchase very much more effectively when they get together and negotiate large discounts. This centralisation can emerge when effective.

  6. The arguments have been doing the rounds of the blogospere for ages. I’ve even made a few myself.

    I think what’s really important here is that the issue is finally making it into the MSM. It may not be the wholething, but surely it’s a step in the ight direction.

  7. All good stuff except the zero-rating for VAT bit.

    Our masters in Brussels won’t allow that.

  8. Ed, no, no, the LEA’s have to go.


    If you leave even a vestige (as if you could – remember Parkinson’s Law), they will just become the thin end of anothe wedge, and before very long we’ll be right back where we started.

    Radical reform is what’s needed. Nothing else will work.

  9. Arneson Stidgeley

    Just give parents the money – forget about the added complexities of ‘vouchers’.

    That will give real choice.

  10. Milton Friedman was a fan of vouchers and I won’t deny that they have potential as an interim step. I’ve advocated them myself on occasion. But I’d much rather give people the actual money and let them choose what to do with it.

    If they want their kids to leave school at 12 and start work on the family farm who am I to determine that they’re making the wrong choice. Or maybe they want to send the sprogs to a Swiss finishing school. Or home school them so that they can afford to send them to Harvard University in the US of A (bet they don’t take vouchers). Whatever. If you must continue to loot while allternative arrangements arise, give your the clients cash and let them chose how to spend what is, after all, to some extent their money.

    This was we devolve decision making all the way down to individuals who know their situations and aspirations rather than the state (at some level) choosing for them?

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