The Grammar School Debate: Let parents choose – the case for school vouchers
The debate over grammar schools misses the point. The education system is the problem. It is time to embrace school vouchers.
The current state education system in this country is flawed. In many cases, parents have little choice but to send their children to poorly performing schools. This could be due to catchment areas, which often serve as ‘selection by house price’, and school oversubscription, to name but a few reasons. Recent statistics have shown that 250,000 students were being educated in 2015 at schools deemed to be failing. This is a catastrophic waste of human potential. It hurts the poor by making private school alumni more competitive for university places and jobs; it hurts businesses by weakening the talent available; it hurts the economy by squandering the aptitude of students but, most of all, it hurts the quarter of a million children whose ability is not capitalised upon. Ofsted, the regulator, can only do so much to improve the current system.
The solution to this problem lies in competition through school vouchers. One of the primary advocates of this system was Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist. Every student would be allocated a set amount of funding, ‘the voucher’, to be spent at whatever school they wish to attend, regardless of whether they are state-owned, charitable or for-profit. Students would be free to move schools (in line with admissions policies), and the barriers to opening new schools would be lowered. This would, in effect, create a market in education.
Implementing a school voucher system would improve the quality of education, and reduce its overall cost.
Competition would allow parents to move their children (and thus funding) to highly performing schools. Good schools would thus be able to expand, while poorly performing ones would be forced to reform, or face the threat of closure or takeover by better institutions. This would also provide a strong incentive for schools to employ good teachers. The market would force schools to constantly improve, or face being left behind.
Allowing for-profit schools to be voucher-eligible would also benefit students. A profit incentive would encourage schools to improve the quality of education and their efficiency in doing so, reducing costs. Such schools don’t have to cost £30,000 per year – around the world, low-cost for-profit schools are regularly used as an alternative to government schools, with even the very poor willing and able to afford them.
School vouchers would also make private education an option for more students. With a proportion of the fees covered by the voucher, parents would be better able to afford private education, and would be more likely to pay a little extra to send their children to such schools. This would increase the amount spent on education, without a cost to the taxpayer.
Voucher-eligible schools should only need to meet a few requirements, such as not radicalising students, and a regulator could still inspect and review schools. Academic selection and issues of religion would be a decision for schools to make, since ultimately, funding comes from parents choosing to endorse the school.
A competitive market in schooling would improve the quality of education, make schools more efficient and less bureaucratic, and incentivise parents to increase the amount spent on education overall. Furthermore, it would increase the freedom of parents to choose where they would like to send their children, and not force bad schools on them. Arbitrary selection by house price would end, and schools would have to meet the demands of parents.