Swedish Lessons


8:23 pm - June 16th 2008

by Unity    


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A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Nick Cowen of the right-wing think-tank Civitas with an interesting and rather flattering proposition – would I review Nick’s new pamphlet, ‘Swedish Lessons’, which looks at what we in England could usefully learn from Sweden’s educational reforms of the last 10-15 years, particularly it’s use of a ‘voucher’ system to increase parental choice and diversity of provision in education.

Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I quickly agreed and, on Friday, a package dropped through my door containing Nick’s pamphlet together with two previous Civitas publications on education policy, all of which made from very interesting reading over the weekend.

I’ll come to the other two pamphlets at a later date, but for today I want to concentrate on Nick’s exploration of the Swedish education system. I had, originally, planned to write a review over the weekend and post-date it for publication here immediately following the expiry of the press embargo on its release, but on reflection decided to hold off for a few hours to see exactly how Civitas would pitch it to the media and what angle, if any, the media would take.

And I’m rather glad that I did insofar as this morning’s coverage in the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian and even Civitas’s own press release barely hardly does justice to Nick’s work, even if it pitches what is, in the current climate, one of the more easily sold ideas in the pamphlet. There is altogether far more of interest in ‘Swedish Lesson’ than simply the possibility of schools being free to provided a more demanding examination regime for their students and much for both left and right to consider carefully if only they’re willing to look past the somewhat misleading headlines and get into the meat of Nick’s arguments.

Perhaps the first thing of note about ‘Swedish Lessons’, somewhat unusually for a pamphlet on education policy, is that it’s actually a damn good read. The pamphlet breezes along without ever getting bogged down in outright wonkery and yet it has sufficient depth of ideas and argument and a good balance between supporting anecdotes and empirical evidence that you’re never left feeling either overloaded or short-changed. If nothing else, Nick has done a fine job of covering a lot of complex ground in a concise and accessible manner – if only government departments could write like this then we might no have quite so much difficulty engaging the public in important political debates.

The pamphlet is divided in the three chapters. The first gives an overview of the Swedish system and the reforms put in place since 1992, with a particular focus on the growth of ‘free schools’ (in Swedish, ‘friskolor’) which are independently-run/ managed and state-funded via a ‘voucher’ system but, crucially, free to parents and non-selective up to the age of 16.

What Nick provides is a clear and unvarnished appraisal of the Swedish system, one that goes some considerable way towards countering any suggestions that it provides a ‘free market, free-for-all’ in education provision. What one learns, instead, is that the Swedish system delivers, at its best, genuine parental choice and diverse range of options and pedagogies far beyond anything that the UK’s rather timid educational reforms have, as yet, managed to deliver, and that it’s a system that has delivered improvements in standards not just amongst those students who have ‘escaped’ the system into the independent schools and driven up standards in state schools in those areas where they face competition from the friskolor. It’s a system that’s not without its flaws, and Nick makes no pretence of concealing them from his target audience, but one in which the positives appear to very strongly outweigh the drawbacks that he identifies.

The second chapter examines some of the challenges facing our own existing education system and will no doubt make for uncomfortable reading for those who still cling to the idea that the annual media round of school league tables and GCSE pass rates actually demonstrates a real return on the government’s massive investment in education over the last ten years. Nick’s assessment of our education system as it exists is somewhat sobering reminder of the adage that there are ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ and nowhere more so than in tackling the issues of grade inflation and the distorting impact of a system that treats examination and test results as a measure of school productivity.

The real meat in Swedish Lessons, however, is to be found in its third and final chapter in which Nick lays out a policy framework for the introduction of ‘Free Schools’ in England and its in this chapter that the care and attention that Nick has applied to presenting a balanced and well-thought argument for reform becomes most apparent as, regardless of which political direction you approach his ideas from, there is something to get your teeth into.

The right will naturally applaud Nick’s emphasis on competition, decentralisation and the importance of allowing free schools to operate independently of the state, and especially central government, not to mention the freedom and flexibility afforded to schools who might wish to adopted a more rigorous and challenging curriculum and examination regime than that mandated by the National Curriculum.

For the those on the left who’re not still absolutely wedded to one-size fits all comprehensive education, the star attractions will probably be Nick’s proposed selection regime for English ‘Free Schools’; a simple ‘First come, first served’ system with lotteries to deal with any over-subscription issues until successful schools can expand their capacity to meet demand, an outright ban on schools charging top-up fees and the suggestion that the notional monetary value of vouchers could be loaded in favour of the most disadvantaged via additional premiums for those with special educational needs or those eligible for free school meals.

That said, to talk in terms of the either the left or right cherry-picking from amongst Nick’s ideas as befits their ideological preferences and prejudices is to do the pamphlet as desperate disservice as what it provides, in its final chapter, is a systematic evolutionary framework for reform that is detailed enough that one can see, immediately, how it could work and yet open-ended enough to allow for the kind of adaptations that may be necessary to secure sufficient political will to move such a policy forward without unduly compromising is core elements and principles.

To give but one example, the suggestion that profit-making companies might be permitted to open and operate Free Schools in England under Nick’s proposed framework is one that would cause many a shudder of revulsion on the ideological left as a harbinger of unrestrained capitalist exploitation of education and yet, one can also see quite easily how such concerns could be quickly offset, at least during the formative stages of a Free School roll-out by means of a simple adaptation of the government’s Community Interest Company model, which provides for asset locking and dividend capping for private investment in return for corporation and other tax breaks akin to those provided to charities. A workable compromise that creates scope for companies to make a fair return on their investment while providing them clear incentives to make that investment is perfectly possible without compromising the framework that Nick sets out.

There are aspects of Nick’s proposals about which I remain a little sceptical, not because there are any obvious flaws in his suggested framework but simply because I’m a little unconvinced, as yet, that he’s made adequate allowances for the cultural difference between Sweden and England and how these may impact, at least in the early stage, of the roll out of a Free School system in this country.

For example, it certainly doesn’t, to my mind, follow that even with an admissions system that forbids any form of selection; it will necessarily follow that Free Schools will reduce the amount of segregation in the English system quite so easily as the pamphlet seems to imply. If anything I would expect, in the early stages of a Free School roll out, to see religious segregation actually increase within the system as a whole as those religious groups who are as yet, only minimally catered for with ‘faith schools’ within the existing state system; and particularly Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, are likely to be amongst the keenest of the early adopters. That will inevitably carry a heavy political premium, particularly when it comes to the creation of Muslim ‘faith schools’ in what is, and likely to remain, a highly febrile political and media environment requiring something more substantial than Nick’s suggested mandatory short course in British values to offset concerns that the system may result in the creation of state-funded madrassas.

Again, however, it is not that difficult to see how it might be possible to surmount any such political problems simply by by applying a degree of rigour in evaluating and monitoring applications to form Free Schools and makes system-wide changes that require all schools to provide a more substantive education in British culture and society than either Nick proposes or anything that is currently available within the existing education system. It is long past time, in my view, that religious education came off the school timetable as a mandatory component of the curriculum in all state schools, even those without an explicitly religious character, and this could, and in my view, should be replaced by a mandatory education in British culture and society, which would include teaching children about religion and religious belief but would also take in philosophy, citizenship, some elements of the social sciences and British constitutional history as core themes that run right through children’s education from five to sixteen. This in turn, would help satisfy the requirement that all school, including free schools, deliver on a commitment to educate children in the values and principles they need to successfully navigate British society.

The most difficult thing I find in trying to review ‘Swedish Lessons’ is that for all that it is one of the most accessible and concise pamphlets that I’ve read in quite some time it also has genuine intellectual depth in its arguments and proposals, far more than can be adequately reflected in a single review. Each element in Nick’s framework for reform is both part of a cohesive plan for increasing diversity and parental choice in education in a manner calculated to improve standards and tailor education flexibly to meet the needs of individual students and yet capable of standing alone as a spark for even more ideas, and more possibilities. It is altogether quite a remarkable achievement in what is, otherwise, quite a slim volume.

It really is very difficult to do the pamphlet full justice without writing a response of similar length and breadth, so perhaps the best I can say for now is that, regardless of your preferred political ‘direction’, if you’re into thinking seriously about the future of education policy in England and entertaining new ideas and new possibilities then I would recommend that disregard what the newspapers have had to say about it today and invest in a copy of ‘Swedish Lessons’.

As a primer for serious debate, it really is one of the best and more thought-provoking pieces of work you’ll read in a very long time.

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About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments


I’ve been more and more sold on the Swedish “vouchers-that-aren’t” every time I’ve read about them, they definitely seem to both effective and firmly in line with my liking of Mill.

Does Nick cover things like teacher-co-ops and similar and how they could work? That’s something that really appeals to me.

But does it work? Saying that Sweden now has a better school system than us or better education outcomes is no good because Sweden is unlike Britain in many ways. Maybe they’re just better than us at that kind of thing. What I want to know is does Sweden have a noticably better system than Norway or Denmark? Surely that’s the meaningful comparison, given that these countries are closer socially and economically to Sweden. Anyone know the answer? Does the pamphlet say?

Woobegone:

My report doesn’t address that specifically. Instead it relies on survey data within Sweden, that compares districts before and after growth in independent schools. But Scandinavian countries are a little less homogenous than you might imagine. Norway is actually pretty poor by international standards, consistently scoring below middle ranking England. Being scandinavian isn’t a ticket to academic utopia! Denmark performs better than the UK but, generally, not quite as well as Sweden:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7117231.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7126388.stm

Independent schools seem to do well within their context without necessarily addressing all the problems within a system (and Sweden is not without many issues of its own). And though I have focussed on Sweden because its form of school choice is uniquely egalitarian (and thus a model that might be suitable for the British political context), there is also strong evidence from the US that school choice drives up standards. In fact, according to this survey, wherever state-funded schools with relative independence are allowed to operate, they tend to do better than their state managed counterparts: http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/education/research/ceer/pdfs/blairseducation.pdf

Mat:

Co-op are certainly mentioned as a model that would fit into the framework Nick sets out. – that’s one element of Nick’s framework that’s particular good, its open-ended and supports a plurality of models and pedagogies.

Woo:

The pamphlet doesn’t go into the question of how Sweden compares with other Scandinavian countries but that’s not really a drawback as it consciously not over proscriptive and there open to adaptation to suit British circumstances. It’s a piece in the puzzle and potentially a significant one but there’s more to do to flesh it out fully for English conditions, but as I’ve noted in response to Mat;s question, because its open-ended there’s scope for making such adaptations without compromising the model.

What I intend to do over a period of time is try to spark debates that build on Nick’s ideas and look at the kind of adaptations that would be needed to cope with those elements when cultural differences between the UK and Sweden need to be addressed.

Interesting post. I’m Swedish and have followed this debate in the UK a bit. I probably should read the pamphlet as well to be able to comment more fully, but here are my initial thoughts:

What is important is that it is not the free-school system per se that improves the quality of education. An interesting TV series on Swedish television recently followed a 9th grade class in one of the schools with the lowest grades and worst socio-economic background in Sweden. During one semester a group of highly experienced and motivated teachers took over this class and in less than 4 months they managed to achieve results equivalent to Sweden’s best schools in the national tests. This proves that what matters for the quality of education is good governance and motivated staff in the school. Having said that some of the ‘free’ schools and the competition that they give to state school has been able to provide exactly that.

However, it’s important to learn the full Swedish lesson. There are also many difficulties with the ‘free’ schools that still needs adjustment.

– The skewed geographical distribution.
Most ‘free’ schools are established around the larger towns in areas with beneficial socio-economic structures. The reform has mostly benefited areas which were already prosperous.

– The planning problem.
It is the local authorities, Kommuns, that have the responsibility to provide education for all their inhabitants. As the situation is now they have no power over, or say in, the establishment of ‘free’ schools in their territory. This means they within a year they can see a lot of pupils disappear from the state schools at the same time as they need to be ready to take on all pupils that don’t manage to get into a ‘free’ school for some reason, or if a ‘free’ school closes down. This mean that it has been much harder for state schools to plan for what number of students they will have to take on.

I seriously hope people don’t start moaning about profit-making companies being involved in setting up schools. Anyone who really cares about education wouldn’t care who provides the best education – they just want the best for every child. If the private sector does a brilliant job, why not let them get involved? In a parental choice system, parents could always choose to avoid profit-making schools if they felt that strongly.

http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com

Helena:

Nick’s chapter on the Swedish does reflect on some of the difficulties that have arisen out of the free schools system as well as it benefits and in that sense one of the challenges for the UK is reflect on those experiences and adapt any implementation of such a system to take into account those issues.

The skewing of geographical distributions may not be quite so much an issue in the UK for cultural reasons. In rural areas, we remain very much attached to out small village schools and its actually the top-down system we have that’s driving many of them out of existence at the moment.

There’s a strong will to retain those type of schools and the challenge, therefore, is largely one of developing an economical/educational model that ensures that they remain sustainable under the free schools system. Just throwing one idea into the pot, if there are several such small schools in a particular geographical area then these could join together to form a collective to pool and distribute their resources across the members of the collective. Individually, each school may not have the resources to provide all the specialist teaching skills they need to deliver the full range of education their kids need, but by combining together that may become possible.

A standard feature of British secondary schools is that pupils will move between classrooms for different lessons within the school timetable – the children go to the teacher to be educated. With a village schools collective you can reverse that principle such that specialist teachers move around the schools to deliver their specialist subjects, provided you have the freedom in the curriculum to allow that to happen.

With regards to the planning problem for LEA’s, which would retain responsibility for community schools, the simple answer is that you get off the efficiency treadmill and allow for the fact that community schools will inevitably have to retain a measure of spare capacity in order to cope with such eventualities.

One thing Nick suggests is that LEA’s should be paid, from the value of ‘voucher’ a standard risk premium of something like 5% of the total value, which its would retain as insurance against, for example, the risk of a free school closing and which could then be used to offset the costs of retaining spare capacity in the community schools system against such an eventuality.

As I see it, these are problems to be solved and not structural flaws in the model and a big part of the ongoing debate I hope to be able to engender will focus on how we adapt the system to the UK’s culture and circumstances in light of Sweden’s experiences.

LFAT:

I seriously hope people don’t start moaning about profit-making companies being involved in setting up schools.

Inevitably, Nick’s proposals wrestle with a few sacred cows on both side of the political divide.

Tories who are wedded to the presumed virtues of grammar schools will jib at the proposal that free schools should be rigorously non-selective, and there will inevitable by some on the left for whom any suggestion of companies profiting from the delivery of education will be treated like an offer of a batch of Kryptonite.

Gaining the political will to take forward a free schools system will necessitate address these issues and many more against the background of a genuine risk that politicians will take Nick’s ideas and simply cherry-pick those few elements that satisfy their ideological prejudices.

There’s a need to develop robust supporting arguments and, in some cases, look at adaptations that, at least during the formative stages of a free school system, offset such concerns until such time as it becomes apparent that the system has bedded in and started delivering as expected. This is the stuff of long haul policy making and structural reform – it doesn’t make for convenient soundbites and cheap headlines but requires patience and commitment to deliver results.

Using something akin to the CIC model as a starting point for private sector involvement in education would provide mechanisms that offset any concerns about possible exploitation for profit at the outset, particular in case where existing schools opt for Free School model – Nick’s system would allow trust schools and academies to convert, not to mention existing independent schools.

If, for example, a trust school did convert and move to profit-making status then some of the obvious concerns that will arise at the outset as those of profit being put ahead of investment and the possibility of asset stripping, particular if the school is one fortunate enough to have retaining its playing field and or sports facilities.

In such cases, a combination of asset locking and capping of dividends during the transition phase removes any prospect of asset stripping or profiteering, in retun for which the school would be compensated by being given a package tax breaks with the aim of allowing shareholder to get a reasonable return while encouraging investment in the schools.

After a set period of time, once the school has proven itself viable and, hopefully successful, it could then be allowed to taper both its commercial constraints and the tax reliefs its get in return for accepts those constraints, making the transition to full private ownership.

The CIC type model would, as I see it, serve as halfway house, a transitional phase giving the system time to prove its detractors wrong, not a permanent constraint on commercial involvement in education.

There are some political and cultural realities we need to address in all this. This is, purely from a brainstorming point of view, one approach that might be usefully brought into play to overcome one particular type of resistance but there will be others that need to debated and fleshed out as things develop.

Unity

Could you possibly elaborate a bit on “asset stripping and profiteering”? How would someone profiteer from running a school?

Bishop: you could run a school into the ground, start it well (or take it over), then cut costs over the course of time in a way that’s not immediately obvious to take more and more profit, then cut and run when the parents start to notice and withdraw their kids.

There’s also the added problem that parents are frequently loath to move their kids to a different school unless they’re very certain they have to—this is of course something that can be overcome with better information; it would need to be overcome if the idea is to work.

Asset stripping is of course an obvious problem if pre-existing schools are to be handed to private operators; I sincerely hope they’re not but are instead turned into self governing charitable trusts or coops.

There’s the additional problem that it can’t be a perfectly functioning market (ie with price competition) and thus profit is possible—we know that in a truly free market profit is minimised, but how many truly free markets are there? Given the price is effectively set, profit is possible, but given that the competition would be aiming to not make a profit then once the system has bedded in profit should be minimised as quality should improve across the board, and the scope for profiteering should be small to non-existence.

It is however something that needs to be taken into account both in the plans for implementation and in the debate before adoption—a lot of people will be “opposed” to this sort of reform for unjustified “anti markets” reasons, it’ll be important to ensure that it’s a consensus reform and that fears are either shown to be unjustified or minimised as much as is possible.

Also—I got a comment notification apparently from Nick the author, not displaying, spam trap or an imitator?

BH:

Asset stripping should be self-explanatory when you consider that existing Trust and Academy schools would be permitted to convert over to Free Schools, taking their existing assets with them. Inevitably a school making such a transition that owns a playing field would come under attack from those ideological opposed to free schools on the premise that without an asset lock the school’s owners/operators could sell of the playing field for development and make a profit, whether or not there was any foundation to such a claim.

That’s politics.

As for profiteering, that’s a more subjective issue.

For some on the left any hint of profit-making companies operating schools will be regarded as a complete anathema and, again, charges of possible profiteering are an obvious card to play in opposing a Free Schools policy.

Other’s will be fairly sanguine about schools running at a modest profit – Nick’s pamphlet indicates that 6% is the norm in Sweden – but may be concerned that this is unlikely to be the case in the UK due to ‘cultural’ differences between the two countries simply because the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ economic model tends to be predicated on much higher returns.

As regards actual profiteering, if there’s anywhere in the system that could be open to exploitation by the unscrupulous, it would be at the lower end of the market where expectations of improvements in standards are likely to be somewhat lower, especially if the system incorporates any premiums on the value of vouchers to reflect social or educational disadvantage.

Hypothetically, a school specialising in special educational needs could generate significant profits without either delivering a significant improvement in standards or even making a significant investment to try and secure improvements, simply because they operate in a ‘market’ in which expectations will be fairly low to marginal due to the nature of the intake, and this could be effectively hidden for quite some time using certain company structures and a bit of creative accounting.

You would expect that the local monitoring systems run by LEAs, which would replace the role of Ofsted, would preclude that happening but, again, as a hypothetical scenario its a possibility and any such possibility is open to being wielded as grounds for political opposition to reform.

To begin with, I’m less concerned with questions of asset stripping and profiteering as an actual possibility and more with their likely use as scare-stories for the purposes of trying to derail the debate – you could say here that being a lefty, I know how people on my side of the political divide think and what kind of counter arguments are likely to be deployed and, knowing that, I’m already mulling over ways to effectively counter those arguments.

Outside of a very few independent schools, the UK has no real recent history of schools operating on a for-profit basis. Even our public schools, Like Eton and Harrow, have charitable status and are, therefore, non-profit making. Although there are actually quite a few businesses that make a tidy profit out of the UK education system as it is, for example, the media giant Pearson owns Edexcel and generate profits from providing examinations and qualifications, opening up education to profit making companies at the coal face is still quite a big cultural step and may need to be transitioned in somewhat gently in order to secure the political will necessary for substantive reform.

I wouldn’t envisage that for-profit companies running schools would be permanently tied down with asset locks and dividend caps which restrict their scope to make a fair profit but would see that such a system as a transitional measure may help overcome some of the initial political objections to introducing profit-making schools over the course of the roll-out period, after which, once the system has bedded in, schools would have the option of tapering off the asset locks and dividend caps, although to do so would result in their losing some of the tax breaks provided as ‘compensation’ for accepting a more restrictive initial regime.

Re: Nick’s comment.

Looks to have been something a little odd with the spam trap but fixed now – quite how, I don’t know, but it is displaying properly now.

I believe spam traps tend to be set off by URL links, of which I had three in that post.

My proposed model wouldn’t actually require any free “transfer” of assets into the private sector and indeed I wouldn’t recommend them at all for commercial companies. I think it is fine for companies to build or buy their own schools premises but they should pay a market rate for them whether that is from local authorities or anyone else. I would be more open to non-profit public interest companies/charities taking over public assets.

But this is not even the most important issue: many free schools in Sweden simply rent school premises from the local authority (or the private sector) and still maintain independence. The important thing is that within the school walls (whoever owns the title deed), Free schools have control over teaching staff, the curriculum and pedagogy, and that outside those walls they are subject to free admissions and an open supply of other schools.

Mat: I do not discuss teacher co-ops much in my report but they would certainly be consistent with the model. Teachers who preferred a particular pedagogy would be free to join together in one school or even form a chain of schools, if their format attracted enough pupils, and the management organisation could be adapted to be non-hierarchical or even an employee profit sharing company (I believe the department store John Lewis operates along those sort of lines).

My proposed model wouldn’t actually require any free “transfer” of assets into the private sector and indeed I wouldn’t recommend them at all for commercial companies.

That’s pretty much how I read things myself, Nick.

What I’m trying to think through, even at this stage, is where the political/ideological opposition will surface and the kinds of arguments that would be deployed against the model you propose.

What we have here is positive model for reform but one which could potentially be derailed by either cherry-picking or by narrowing the debate on a small number of issues to the exclusion of appreciating how the big picture all hangs together to make the system work.

What blogging, I think (hope) can add to this is a means of thrashing out the various arguments and counter arguments over a period of time so that what we end up with is not just a fully realised policy but a robust one that has the answers for its critics in place almost before their counter arguments are deployed.

I made the point that it would be unfair simply to come at this from one single political direction because, as I think you’ve correctly divined, what you’re proposing could quite easily transcend normal party lines out here amongst bloggers.

In fact from past discussions with the likes of Bishop Hill and others, I can be pretty much certain that it will find considerable support amongst libertarians, classical and social liberals and decentralist socialists because, politically, it operates along the growing authoritarian/libertarian axis far more that it does along the old left/right economic divide.

Just to echo the previous comments of Unity, I think this will be broadly welcomed by those of a libertarian bent. Of course I’d like to see schools fully privatised and entirely free of state influence, but the Swedish model represents a massive step forward, if adopted, and I’d certainly welcome it.

I recognise the risk that schools will sell off their playing fields (Did John Major leave any of them unsold?). But with my “think like an economist” hat on, doesn’t this just mean that society wants housing more than it wants schools with playing fields? I can’t help thinking that, left to their own devices, schools would indeed sell off their existing sites, and would move to out of town locations or brownfield sites, using the proceeds of the sale to invest in swanky new facilities to attract new custom. Of course, if their profits were capped, then they might choose not to do this, but I’m not convinced that this is a better outcome. Still, as you say, this may be a necessary step to win the initial argument.

The right will naturally applaud Nick’s emphasis on competition, decentralisation and the importance of allowing free schools to operate independently of the state

Why is this a ‘right’ thing? I firmly identify with the left… butI’m a hge believer in competition, decentralisation and civil society bodies operating independently of political intereference.

Sunny, many on the ‘left’ bought into the line peddled by the likes of Thatcher and Tebbit that markets are the preserve of the Right exclusively. This is palpably false, and Thatcher’s belief in the profit motive and her willingness to sell off industries as private monopolies shows that she wasn’t half as market orientated as her propaganda made out.

Hence those of us on the left who favour such measures are at times written off as “dangerously right wing”—I’ve been accused of such more than once. Rather fun really when you point out support for socialist success stories like co ops and John Lewis (Nick, John Lewis and Waitrose are owned by the John Lewis Partnership, which is basically a workers cooperative with a few tweaks to make it work more effectively).

If I could break my block and get my serious articles done, my Thatcher myths series would’ve been brilliant. Honest.

Why is this a ‘right’ thing?

It’s not necessarily a ‘right thing’ but these are some the elements of Nick’s proposals that the right will feel most comfortable with and, generally, focus most attention on, hence the comment.

‘…decentralisation…’

not a right thing or a left thing, but an anti-centre thing – ie ‘liberal’ in a way that carries some appeal to left, right and centre.
See also: A Good Thing, balanced, anti-wing politics.

LFAT –
Nobody cares who provides the best education, but there is a question over whether every child can or should have access to the ‘best’ and who and how that can be accurately determined.

If private companies’ involvement in education provision means that access or quality is reduced or limited in any way then they are harming the aspiration to provide the best for every child.

I’m concerned that you fail to recognise the contradiction in your comment.

I’ve been sold on something like the Swedish system for a while now. It also looks like this is what we’ll get from a Tory government.

I think the Swedish or Dutch systems are important because they combine freedom of conscience with social justice. I particularly like the suggestion that schools would get a premium for taking on disadvantaged children.

However, the limitations on such schools deciding on their own admissions arrangements is problematic and, as much as I would like it to be otherwise, unjustifiable – especially if the justification for “free schools” is based, at least partly, on the freedom of conscience. I also think it would be counteracted by a robust anti-discrimination policy and the suggested voucher premiums.

I do think those on the left have a duty to campaign for a form of school choice that is acceptable. If anyone’s interested I tried to work out a philosophically coherent approach to some policy options:

http://regnodelfines.blogspot.com/2008/02/free-schools.html

and drew up a ‘Charter for Educational Freedom’ here:

http://regnodelfines.blogspot.com/2008/07/charter-of-educational-freedom.html
http://regnodelfines.blogspot.com/2008/07/more-on-free-schools.html


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  1. Thomas Byrne

    @AbiPlus With a nice preview and positive review from Lib Con http://t.co/YdaqL4Mh





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