Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The arrogance of education authorities

Last night I spent several hours with campaigners in the village of Ponthir who are trying to save their local school. The school is being closed down by the Education Authority on the grounds that education of an "equivalent standard and diversity" (what that last word means I don't know) can be offered elsewhere.

"Elsewhere" is likely to be three or four miles away, too far to walk, and a long way to send four year olds by bus meaning that many parents will take to the roads adding to problems of traffic congestion.

I strongly suspect that this is all being done to make some money for the Council by allowing them to sell off the land on which the school is situated.

The whole outrageous situation demonstrates the need to rid ourselves of the arrogant bureaucrats who run the Local Education Authorities and hand power back to teachers and parents. How can this be done? Very simple. It costs the Council around £5000 per annum to educate each child. If parents had the right to access that money and use it to educate their children elsewhere if they wanted, then the LEAs would have to listen.

If this system were in place then parents in Ponthir could take their children out of the state system and have them educated privately or even, if their were enough of them, to set up their own local school using the money.

Of course the beauty of a voucher system like this would be that in general these situations would not arise. The mere fact that parents could go elsewhere would encourage LEAs to treat parents like valued customers, rather than an inconvenient obstacle to their grand schemes.


Blogger David said...


Vouchers have been around for ages; and you'll know that even Keith Joseph couldn't manage to introduce them. Why did he fail?

Because it isn't easy, it isn't a free market and perhaps because education shouldn't in any case be subject entirely to market forces, as it's a mixed Good with an element of public Good to it.

My partner went to a private school. Fees in her old school are now £8,961 p.a.(non-boarding). Give every parent £5,000 and you'll also give it to parents who are already paying an enormous amount for the education of their sprogs. Do you think that the end result will be an improvement in the standard of education for everyone? If you do think that, why?

I know of one private school that is being led into higher standards of teaching, management and curriculum delivery through an initially unenthusiastic connection with a fantastic state school. I know which school I'd prefer my children attended.

It's so tempting to adopt postures - but I'm hoping you'll use this blog to debate issues.

I do tend to agree with you about sclerotic public bureacracies and the need to devolve power. It's especially an issue in Wales where so many jobs depend on public subsidy.

8:14 PM  
Blogger David Davies AM said...

You have made a couple of interesting points here. First of all I accept that in general most independent schools charge more than £5000 - but not all of them. There is already one organisation ( which is proving that you can deliver an independent education for £3000pa - much less than the state spends and the demand is there.

I do see some problems with a voucher system. As you said it would have to be carefully thought through to ensure that it didn't simply benefit those who already use independent schools. I can also foresee that it would work better in urban areas where transport links could facilitate more choice than in rural areas where travelling long distances to an alternative school would not really be practical. I think there would be a strong argument for piloting the idea in certain areas to see how it worked before making a big change that could have unforeseen consequences.

You mentioned that the independent school which you had dealings with was failing to provide a good standard of education until it teamed up with the local comprehensive. All I can say is more fool anyone who paid £8000 for a second rate education!

1:45 PM  
Blogger Bishop Hill said...

David (commenter) asks why giving £5000 to all parents should improve education for all. I don't think it would. However it would improve things for those in the state system now as it would force schools to operate for the benefit of their customers rather than their employees and their political masters. For those in the private sector it would stop them having to pay for an education they are not using. It seems to me that consumers of education would benefit and bureaucrats would not. This is a winner.

The Conservatives did fail to get vouchers working in the nineties. This doesn't mean they can never work. There are plenty of examples from around the world where they do work, and have done for many years. Check out the EG West Centre ( on the Swedish experience. There is one scheme in the US (I can't find the link now) which has run since, I think, the 19th century)

2:21 PM  

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