There are a few education stories in the media at the moment that have a common theme: they all illustrate quite powerfully that free markets erode standards in education in all sorts of ways. Furthermore, there’s mounting evidence that this current government’s obsession with choice in education is unpopular both with teachers and parents. A survey highlighted in this week’s TES reveals that 80% of parents want their children to go to the local school. A lecturer at the London School of Economics, Dr Sonia Exley, who led the study said: “The survey reveals there is no great enthusiasm for choice and that people actually want for everybody to send their children to their local school. By providing more choice by creating new schools, all you are doing is shifting the problem. Giving the parents the option over where they send their child does not necessarily mean it will promote equality among schools.” Another poll in the TES shows that teachers really don’t like this government’s policies either.
Echoing many of my own views, parents appear to want their children to go to a good local school without the headache of choice. While I sometimes find myself disagreeing with the editor of the TES, Gerard Kelly, I found this week’s editorial surprisingly in tune with my own thinking. He points out rather eloquently that the school choice agenda just hasn’t helped schools and has actually been quite destructive. This section was particularly striking to me: “Schools do not make good markets. The idea that more competition can provide greater parental choice has always been overcooked. And anyway, parents don’t seem to want it. Also, geography inevitably limits the amount of schools, hence competition, an area can support. Then there is the teensy weensy problem of institutions that have distorted the market rather than played fair. Selective schools haul in the brightest pupils, for instance, and tend to shun the difficult and less academically gifted. They operate like uptight and upmarket nightclubs, picking the customers they want to serve.”
Well said, Mr Kelly!
Equally, other educational free-markets have been proven to be failing. The debacle over the exam boards convening meetings in which the top people from the board tell their customers (teachers who have paid hundreds of pounds) what questions are coming up in the exam and show them egregious short-cuts has shown that the competition between the boards has led to a more dishonest system with those who have the cash and the know-how being the favoured ones. This is a complex issue which I’ve written about for the Guardian, but the underlying message here is that choice has undermined educational standards to a certain extent.
So it’s becoming increasingly evidence this government’s agenda of expanding free markets in education is just not working. Rather than consolidating what we’ve got and giving parents and teachers what they want: good local schools for all.