Friday 23 April 2004

Scottish education can be a world-beater again

It's now becoming more widely known just how much is being spent on state education. The average sum spent per pupil in Scotland is now £4,700 per annum:
SCOTLAND has joined the world’s highest spenders in education - devoting at least £4,700 per pupil on a state comprehensive system that is fast approaching the cost of private schools.

A study by The Scotsman has found that vast sums injected by the UK government, combined with falling school rolls, have pushed Scotland’s spending powers above that of Sweden, Denmark and the United States.

Note how the expenditure was previously understated by ignoring maintenance and security costs. It's clear that a £4,700 voucher would enable all children to attend private primary schools at no extra cost to the taxpayer. Private secondary schools cost more but how much of the extra cost would disappear if those schools had the whole market to themselves?

Let's imagine a situation in which there was a "National Food Service". Assume that 90% of people collected their groceries "free" from local authority outlets. The other 10% choose to "go private". You can bet that the cost of food in the private shops would be a hell of a lot more than we pay nowadays. If private schools had the whole market to themselves there would be a dramatic reduction in costs because of the extra competition and the wider customer base. It wouldn't surprise me if the cost per secondary pupil fell below £4,700 per annum. We should get the local government dinosaurs out of education altogether as a matter of urgency.

Note the comment from the teaching union:

"Scotland is a rural country and you can have any system - be it a voucher, a passport or whatever - but for a significant number of people it’s meaningless because geography dictates that you have to go to the local school," he said.
This is highly misleading. A few years ago I read somewhere that Scotland was actually a more urban society than England. Most of us live in a small, densely populated part of the country. A privatised Scottish education system could be more competitive than elsewhere, not less. Besides, why should we assume that a private rural school would be inferior to a "public" one? There are other options as well, like homeschooling.

In the second article, Fraser Nelson explains that vouchers are used in other left-wing European countries like Holland, Denmark and Sweden:

These countries use the voucher system - where parents decide where their £4,700 should be spent. Except it is far less on the Continent: but this is more than enough for teachers to open their own schools and make things work.
Of course, Scotland's politicians are not impressed:
Yet in Scotland, political opposition remains entrenched. Ken Macintosh, a Labour MSP member of Holyrood’s education committee, speaks for many - including in the Scottish National Party - in saying that vouchers "undermine the state sector".

"The voucher system is an ideologically-driven idea based on the idea that private schools are better than state schools," he says.

"They subsidise private education for very few, and it simply does not create more choice at all."

But private schools are better than state ones - and a sound "ideology" would explain why. State schools should be undermined. Liberating education would benefit pupils, parents, the economy and most teachers. I don't mind which party introduces privatisation - it can be the Conservatives, or even the Scottish Socialists for all I care. After all, if it's good enough for Sweden it should appeal to our own socialists - if they really care about education.