28 September 2007

Failing Schools: Stating the obvious

Hot off the press from The Department of the Bleedin Obvious (DotBO) is the news that failing schools could harm the economy. "Could" is not the term I would use - "almost certainly will" is how I would phrase it.

Failing schools mean failing pupils. It then suggests failing adults and failing parents leading to more failing pupils. Some will climb out of this ongoing train-wreck, but many more will not. Many DO not.

The State should not get in the way of opportunity. The State should work to remove barriers to opportunity it has created. The State monopoly on education, LEAs and the shortage of good places and good schools created by this system is standing in the way of opportunity, in the way of anxious parents and potential talent in our young people.

It is counter intuitive to create more capacity than you require, but that is precisely what is needed in schools. We need a surplus of good schools and good school places to enable parents to pick a good school near to home, with enrolled siblings or their child's friends. A surplus of good schools will make parents happier about moving home to seek work or be closer to work to avoid extended commutes. A State monopoly will not go about creating new schools when existing school capacity of whatever standard is sufficient for the pupils enrolled. Bad schools will always have children under such a system because all the other schools are full. The incentive for the school should be "improve or die", i.e. improve or find yourselves turning up to empty classes and ever declining funding. To peform this, a surplus of good schools is the simplest and organic way. Enable more schools to be formed outside the State system, not "permit", not "allow" but not stand in the way of more independent schools and the parents will have more choice and the worst schools will empty by themselves. The best teachers will be paid more and more kids will end up at a good school near to home, nearer to their parents workplaces, which cannot be a bad thing for home life and thus further improve the prospects§ for young people.

Vouchers are one way to achieve this.

§ Don't you DARE say "life chances".

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