Friday 3 October 2003

What price education?

Despite the politically motivated trashing of the Scottish education system, parents still seek the best for their children:
Parents are paying up to 120 per cent above the asking price to secure a property in the catchment area of state schools with the best reputation.
As a property expert explains:
Jamie Crocket, a valuation manager for Glasgow Solicitors Property Centre, said: "To be blunt: in certain areas schools drive the market."

Some parents are calculating the cost of private education at about £6,000 a year for each child - and deciding it would be cheaper to pay an inflated price for a house near a good state school.

Finding £6,000 a year to educate each child would certainly seem to be beyond the means of all but the wealthiest. However, we need to look a bit more carefully at the figures.

In the current issue of Economic Affairs there is an excellent article by James Tooley of the University of Newcastle. Mr Tooley writes:

The average cost of private education in this country is about £5,000 per year, yet only about £2,900 is made available for each state-schooled youngster, so where would the difference be made up? The answer is easy: if you throw in all the costs of the state bureaucracies, the Department for Education and Skill (DfES), Ofsted, the Teacher Training Agency (TTA), the Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA), et cetera ad nauseum, and divide by the total number of pupils, then you get to precisely that magic figure of £5,000!
Clearly Mr Tooley is writing about England, but I have found these statistics covering Scotland and have been able to calculate that the average direct cost per pupil (primary and secondary) is £2,860 per year - almost exactly the same as Mr Tooley's £2,900 for England. As well as excluding the costs of the state bureaucracy, the Scottish figures:
"may not necessarily include all the costs of running the school. Other costs relating to the school may also have been incurred during the period, for example, capital spending or a proportion of total education authority expenditure on services such as those provided by advisers and psychologists."
So it looks as though we could give every Scottish parent an annual voucher for £5,000 per child to be spent on private education with no additional cost to the taxpayer. If private schools had 100% of the market instead of less than 20% I could easily see prices dropping from £6,000 to £5,000 per pupil or even lower. Let's go for it.