More reform please

Let me upset all those of you who think the state should carry on delivering services badly so we can all carry on grumbling about it but never fix it. As some of you are wedded to your poor badly run congested rip off state roads, how wedded are you to your state controlled LEA driven comprehensive schools?

I want everyone to go to an independent school. Of course I want free education for all, as we have today. I also want to end the huge divide between public school and state school. Money can buy rich families a better education. The way to tackle that is not to prevent all but the very very rich buying their way out of the state system, but to improve the free schools.

I would say to all state schools that they are to be freed of national and local government control. They could become educational charities, not for profit companies, teacher co-ops, ordinary companies or whatever they like. They would take over the buildings and equipment, and run them as they saw fit, as long as they carried on providing school places.They would only need state permission and face loss of their property or have to give the state its money back if they wanted to move out of education and do something else. Schools would rise, flourish and expand based on their own energies and success, attracting pupils as they showed how good they were. Bad schools which failed to attract pupils would change their management or close.

All pupils of school age would receive a grant to pay the fees, up to agreed maxima. This would be enough to guarantee a place at a good school. Some schools say they value the services the Local Education Authority provide. In that case they could buy them from the LEA out of the enhanced per pupil money they received. All the money would go through the school, instead of being routed via the LEA. That way they will buy the bureaucracy and back up they want, not be forced to take the bureaucracy Councils think they must have.

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25 Comments

  1. Posted September 1, 2009 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I agree John

    but on the worst large public housing estates (I have some in mind in the North East of England) the local junior and comprehensive schools are some of the worst in the country

    They have been like this for 3 or 4 generations at least

    I agree the quality of education available to these kids needs ramping up significantly as the only hope to stop these places being wastelands of unemployable hopelessness

    But if you imagine hypothetically the best head teacher in the world given these schools to sort out, how would they attract decent other teachers? apart from a few doing it almost as a charity lifestyle choice why would any decent teachers work there?

    They cannot pay any more, the teachers regularly get beaten up and worse, why would a teacher not prefer a cushy middle class school?

    The parents dont buy books even, can you imagine how hard that makes it for the teachers?

    And those schools like it or not remain the only ones the kids can attend without very long journeys, so how do the parents even if they are given the choice send there kids anywhere else? they could not afford the transport anywhere else?

    And in the whole town there is not oversupply of places, so there is no spare capacity for the better schools to soak up pupils while the less good pupils loose pupils? yes simplistically if the money follows pupil great, but where does the extra space etc come from?

    The real emergency in the education sector is the schools serving the worst areas, as those I have in mind here, I dont think your policy on its own will produce a quick enough change, and those parents will be the least empowered to do any choosing

    I think such Schools should be treated as a national emergency, and crack outside resources flow in and radically change the state of play, treat them like a war zone and totally change the mind set?

    Or otherwise how are we going to do it?

  2. Posted September 1, 2009 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Your road privatisation scheme (is it yours or Rothschild’s?) was lacking in detail of the charges which would be imposed on the motorist. With such a gap it is hardly surprising that you didn’t get a ringing endorsement. Too many of us, I am afraid, are very sceptical about schemes which aren’t going to cost us more.
    Your schools’ reform sounds good in principle but there are many questions of detail which will arise. Quite correctly, people are not prepared to agree to things at face value.

    Reply: I put forward my scheme. I have not heard or read the Rothschild scheme. I I had I would have talked about it.

  3. Posted September 1, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    I feel passionately about this. In our town, this year (2009) the pass rate at GCSE in our monopolistic Comprehensive is – 24%. That means that 3/4 pupils leave without a real qualification.
    But the School Prom was spectacular.
    Where do Mr and Mrs Balls’ children go to school, I wonder? Or Harriet Harman’s?
    And the numpties in charge never ever enter a classroom except for a photo op. (Did you read jeremy Clarke this week in the Spectator?)
    Get them out – free up the Heads.

    And, above all, get more parent driven schools out there!
    As a Catholic, I watch the number of children at church slowly drying up. We desperately need a Catholic School.
    I am sure that Muslims feel the same and, as Chris Woodhead says, the Bin Laden Madrasseh, Brdaford can easily be closed by the Police if it gets messy.
    Atheist Schools? They are there already: they are called Comprehensives.
    The State has ruined a once great education system.
    Time for change!

  4. Posted September 1, 2009 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Is it not obvious that teachers will get “burnt out” in a few years in one of the worst schools on the worst estates or inner city locations

    We need real simple mechanisms for decent teachers to agree to work there while being able to see an exit strategy to a more normal school after a few years, currently any teachers taking on such a school are in great danger of getting stuck there

    We should build the system so that a few years in an inner city school is actually seen as a good thing on a teachers CV

    Dont think market forces on there own can do all this?

  5. Posted September 1, 2009 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    I for one, am not wedded to badly run state owned roads or anything else for that matter.

    But I am not in favour of enormous and complicated schemes being imposed on us to fix things.

    All I want is for the political classes to run things effectively. Let us have some ideas on how to improve the road system that doesn’t involve tagging every car in the country. How about just building some more roads?

  6. Posted September 1, 2009 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Seems like a reasonable suggestion to me. Presumably those running the individual schools would be wise enough to either adapt to run under such a new regime, or to procure the services of somebody sufficiently business-savvy to help them with the change to the administration.

    Could it be said that the previous changes to patient funding in the NHS helped the system? I know that the NHS is blamed for lots of things, but the flow of money following patients doesn’t seem to be mentioned much. It’s either working, or the other issues are so large that any problems pale into insignificance.

    Would you allow the money associated with the child to be given to a school in the private sector, or would the money be lost at that point?

    I hope that schools wouldn’t be allowed to tie parents into a long-term (sic) contract forcing them to stay with a poor education provider.

    Perhaps I’m more open to your proposals for schools because they don’t affect me directly, unlike changes to the road network!

  7. Posted September 1, 2009 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    So as I understand it fees/grants will follow the pupil.

    Not a problem with that if fees/grants increase in line with education costs. A possible problem exists here with regard to location and areas as an inner London building will cost more to purchase and run (wages) than a school out in the sticks.

    No problem with independent schools, as long as there are enough places for the kids who need to be educated.

    Are you proposing a national curriculum which is manditory, and which could be added to (extra subjects) by individual schools, or are you proposing each school is free to choose what it offers in the way of subjects.

    Clearly there would need to be some sort of a National examination so that employers, and indeed the students and universities could verify the abilities of said students for selection and comparison reasons.

    I think this proposal is in need of much discussion, as I do not think the present system is working anywhere near good enough.

  8. Posted September 1, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    “Grants” are controlable, as are “schools”.
    Simply fork over the cash and let people do as they see fit.

    Is the right way to learn a modern foreign language 2 hours of french lessons for 35 weeks a year for 5 years, or going to china for three months?

    A “school” can provide one, a free child can pick either.

  9. Posted September 1, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Absolutely right!

    I fail to understand why your proposal was not adopted as official Conservative policy years ago.

    Let’s hope it can be implemented soon.

  10. Posted September 1, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    This one is somewhat easier than roads. With energy and imagination, a school staff can make a real difference regardless of location, somewhat reducing the disguised fees represented by higher house prices for good school catchment areas. However, fixing schools will take some encouraging in the right directions over and above market liberalisation.

    We know that the education system has become vastly more inefficient as exams have been dumbed down: reversing this will lead to massive savings in the cost of education. A levels, taken two years later than O levels used to be, are now worth about the same as O levels. A pass a GCSE could probably be scored by a monkey if you could train it to make a cross against one answer in each multiple choice question. Current exams are poorly suited to evaluating the ability of pupils, and thus of steering them towards ways of earning a living that will suit them best.

    One comment I read that followed an article by Michael Gove about his “Swedish solution” said “So you are in favour of Madrassas?”. The objection is best answered by some prescription of syllabus and a requirement that teaching be conducted in English for all subjects other than languages if state money is to be provided. A real emphasis on English is required at primary level, especially in polyglot areas dominated by immigrant communities, and an assumption that children are to be educated in line with British culture. There should be no UK state funding for foreign schools such as the (excellent) French Lycee in Kensington, to pick a less controversial example. Those who wish to live as expatriates should expect to fund their children’s education privately or in their home countries.

    Many argue in favour of selective education for the more able pupils (as would I – the only thing really wrong with Grammar schools was the narrow age band at which selection occurred: some able children could be identified much earlier, and some do not blossom academically until somewhat later). One of the biggest failures of the current system is failing to provide separate schooling for those who are disruptive (probably both ends of the ability spectrum!), or who are not really able to benefit from the teaching on offer.

    The objective of education should be to turn out good citizens who have their abilities drawn out and developed to maximise each child’s potential. We accept that high end professionals continue training well into their twenties, and indeed many continue learning through a career: as they acquire more experience and prove themselves they acquire more responsibility. On the other hand we are now too ready to assume that more years of education will turn out more highly skilled school leavers and graduates. This is a waste of educational resources, and does the less able students no favours: they are denied the opportunity to start earning a living, and in the case of “university”, they are saddled with debts.

    Providing “right size” education that improves outcomes for sink estates is probably the real key (the cost of failure in benefits and social breakdown is very high), although ensuring that we really get the best out of our more able students (and encourage them to make a life in the UK) is a close second.

  11. Posted September 1, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Cripes (as you-know-who would say)! Real Conservative thinking! And a proper application of logic (rather than Socialist dogma) to a very real problem. More please; and can you sell it to Mr C and Mr O?

  12. Posted September 1, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    As one of those “wedded to my poor badly run congested rip off state roads” as you put it, I can confirm that I am absolutely not wedded to “state controlled LEA driven comprehensive schools”. Reforms along the lines you suggest are long overdue. As even Tony Blair recognised, the appalling state of our State education system really ought to be the top priority for us all. The State over many years now and under both parties has completely failed to address these problems. So we need to take the State out of the system.

    Obviously the details need to be worked out, e.g. how to get a simple application system for parents that doesn’t involve multiple applications to local schools, whether schools would be restricted about being able to have selective admission, and what happens to the assets of a bad school when it closes, but in general I’m all for your ideas.

    The system you suggest would put the existing private schools in the driving seat of our education system, since vast numbers of parents would direct their grants to those schools. And a good thing too, since they’ve shown themselves infinitely superior to the “bog standard local comprehensives” that we inflict on most of our children.

  13. Posted September 1, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I think the biggest mistake with the academy programme was preventing the schools from making a profit. Because the schools were to be non-profit, normal businesspeople had no reason to get involved. The people who did get involved had motives which might be considered undesirable, like the wish to promote particular religious teachings.

    To build a more effective programme, perhaps we should encourage profit making companies to take over groups of schools. These companies would be solely focused on satisfying parents, so that they receive the maximum numbers of pupils and hence money.

  14. Posted September 1, 2009 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Careful, school places are not ‘free’. They are paid for out of general taxation. Better to say that you (and I) support education as a general good that should be funded out of general taxation such that no-one is excluded from a place at a school for want of finance.

    People do not value what is ‘free’. There is no price signal. If parents have to pay for schooling in general their children knowing this feel more committed.

    As part of what you posit you must also get the money to follow the pupil. You could do this in any number of ways but critically it does not go into the education establishment to be rationed at their convenience. They’d have to get their funding by competing for what parents wanted for their children. They won’t like that! I’d love it.

  15. Posted September 1, 2009 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Aside a few voices crying in the wilderness making the case that the State does not have to be the provider of public services in order to ensure free access to all citizens, where is the leadership?

    Some years ago someone remarked that if the Catholic Church carried on reforming its liturgy it would eventually invent the Book Of Common Prayer, so too the Conservatives are on track to invent New Labour.

    We shall not see change until the Conservatives stop being “me too” and the party of opposition in name only.

    Elsewhere is a Conservative video which highlights in its things to be proud of list: the NHS, Climate Change, the EU and that oxymoron Social Justice.

    So another 5 years of Labour in the offing, with a name change.

    There are younger people who do not remember what it was like when the State provided a telephone service, for example, and how much better and cheaper it got when they stopped and private enterprise took over, and too many older people apparently have no memory.

    Perhaps more of the same is what they want/deserve.

  16. Posted September 1, 2009 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    It seems so sound as to be obvious to me, but as with all radical ideas, there is a certain inertia around the status quo. Nonetheless, this scheme or something like it sounds great to me. As my new born son will be off to school in 2013, I would love the choice rather than be faced with £9,000 a year fees our of taxed income.

    More please.

  17. Posted September 1, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    The system proposed is the old grant maintained system. I was chairman of governors of a school that went grant maintained in 1992. In those glorious years until 1997 we were able to build a technology block, additional classroom block that enabled a three form entry and an early years unit financed mainly from the additional funds that were not stolen from us by the LEA. During those years we were able to do many other things that would never have been considered before. There was an atmosphere of ‘Yes we can’ to borrow a phrase which has now been dissipated by the ever encroaching dead hand of the LEA. Sir Humphrey is not dead – hehas only changed his tactics.

  18. Posted September 1, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t with you on roads, because even the most ingenious entrepreneur can’t create extra capacity in areas where land is not available – the very areas with the most congestion. Crowded roads are just the inevitable byproduct of living on an awkwardly-shaped, densely-populated, pre-industrially-settled island, and most of us take that into account when deciding where to live and when and how to travel. We don’t have vast, flat, uninhabited and relatively cheap areas of land on which to build new motorways, and even if we had we would still come up against the problem of absorbing all the new free-flowing traffic into the spider’s web of narrow streets in which every British city is swathed. Can you imagine the endless rows about people’s homes being demolished to make way for roads designed to rake in private profits?

    Schools are a different matter, where there is infinite scope for variety and specialisation. Giving parents real choice would benefit everyone. I can imagine what a difference a genuinely valuable education would make to many currently bored and troublesome kids; how many more useful qualifications (such as language skills actually recognised in the relevant countries, unlike the current language GCSE and A levels) could be offered, including those which develop individual talents rather than making everyone conform to the same pattern. There would be no need for schools to be huge (though they could be, if that worked); villages could set up community schools, as could large social housing estates (in this case I would be entirely confident that the results could not possibly be worse than the existing provision). One great advantage would be the flexibility offered. The other, and possibly even more precious one, would be that the majority of schools would at last be able to do what independent schools have always done: focus on the outcome for the individual child. And, to anyone who worries that this would lead to restrictive entry policies, I would say that there are lots of independent schools in which pupils’ academic achievements are not necessarily the measure of success. Sporting abilities, practical skills, artistic talent and creativity can all be nurtured far more successfully outside a centrally-imposed curriculum.

    I hope you will be in a position to implement this very soon.

  19. Posted September 1, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Sorry about the double post, I tried unsuccessfully to amend the first one.

  20. Posted September 1, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    John:
    Would you allow parents to top up the fee-grant and send their children to a school which cost more than the grant? Advantage gives parents a stake in education.
    Disadvantage : provides an open goal for the politics of envy!

    Come to that what would a parent currently paying private school fees do with the grant certificate , perhaps they could give it to a former state school as a charitable donation?

  21. Posted September 1, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    John

    Won’t good schools still attract pupils from wealthy families as they can afford the travel costs or a move into a catchment area? Won’t good schools still be over subscribed and so will pick the best pupils? Won’t a huge number of pupils still live in a location where there is only one local school and there will be no additional pressure on that school to improve – nor the opportunity for it to pick the best pupils?

    I don’t see why merely paying for a service directly means it will automatically get better? How would you guarantee a place at a good school when there aren’t enough in the country for the current school population and the education age popoulation is on the increase?

    Matt

  22. Posted September 1, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Having made considerable sacrifices to see my daughters decently educated I promise you that not all parents with children at private schools are “very rich” (and I’m less so now than I was when I started having to pay). I am by no means the poorest parent at my daughter’s school and my 12 year old, 160k mile car does not stand out in the car park. And, on a pedantic point, in the UK 93% of children receive an education paid for by the taxpayer and no one has a “free” education.

    The most important thing I felt I gained was the schools’ independence from politicians. The strength of the independent sector could be gained for all schools if head teachers were allowed to run their schools their way. That means deciding which pupils to accept or reject according to whatever criteria they wish; setting the curriculum (which also has to imply some degree of independence for examing bodies); and hiring, firing and remunerating staff. Parents must also have the right to apply to any school of their choice and send their children there subject only to meeting the admissions criteria set by the head teacher. Over subscribed schools should be allowed to expand if the head wished to do so; undersubscribed schools to close,.

    There would, no doubt, be a few schools gaining headlines because they failed to conform to the prejudices of the retired colonels (Gordonstoun or a madrassa for example) and a few whinges that people who were already paying might be a bit better off (class enemies (pun intended) mustn’t be allowed to gain), but the gain would be worth it.

  23. Posted September 1, 2009 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Sounds eminently sensible to me – the key being no state or local authority control.

  24. Posted September 1, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure that independent schools are that much better once you discount the top ten or so. I went to meet the Headmasters of a couple of independent schools nearby when my son was 10. I was distinctly unimpressed by them and decided it wasn’t worth the struggle to find £30k or so each year and got him into the local Grammar School instead. The Headmaster of this school was of a higher calibre than both the independents and seems to do a good job and makes it look effortless which is always a sign of someone who knows what they’re doing.

    Given the amount of tax we pay and the money they pay to teaching staff nowadays there is no reason why such schools shouldn’t be available everywhere.

  25. Posted September 1, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I wrote a letter to my local newspaper describing a – fictional – irrigation scheme that I said that I had seen in Iraq.

    There was a dam built to provide water to farmers.

    Just below the dam, there was the District Governor’s house with lawns, gardens and fountains playing.

    Then there were the officer’s houses with their own lawns and gardens.

    On some days, there was some water for some farmers.

    As a school governor, I entirely agree with your proposals. Money spent in the DCSF and the LEA is money not available to educate children.

    I believe that half the money voted by Parliament for education is wasted by the bureuacracy and never reaches a child.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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