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First we crawl, then we walk

As a general rule, whenever you hear or read that teaching unions are ‘angry’ then you can pretty much bet all your wordly worth that something good and positive is happening in the education sector.

I have yet to encounter an exception to this rule:

Teachers’ unions reacted angrily today after the Government vowed to press ahead with plans for 200 privately-sponsored city academies.

This hardly means that the (long overdue) commodification of education is upon us but then these public sector mafiosi possess bloodhound levels of sensitivty that enable them to pick up on even the faintest whiff of threat to their vested interests.

I wholly expect that even if these academies do start sprouting up around the country, the curriculum will still be politically-mandated and the sponsors will (in common with everyone else in the productive, non-looting sector) have to navigate their way through a miasmic swamp of diktats, edicts and regulations on their way to getting something resembling decent results.

But, for all that, they do seem to me to represent the first few, tottering, tentative, baby steps towards the long-term goal of levering the state out of the education business. Good.

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20 comments to First we crawl, then we walk

  • GCooper

    Indeed. And as further evidence, witness reports that the teachers’ unions “cautiously welcomed” the extended school hours, designed to allow parents to further neglect the children they chose to inflict on the world at our expense.

  • Let us not forget that the extended school hours (aka babysitting on the State) proposal was also cautiously welcome by the Tories – who have therefore yet again shown what an utter waste of space they are.

  • From Wikipedia:

    Despite its advantages for agricultural and artisan producers, the guild became a target of much criticism towards the end of the 1700s and the beginning of the 1800s. They were believed to oppose free trade and hinder technological innovation, technology transfer and business development. According to several accounts of this time, guilds became increasingly involved in simple territorial struggles against each other and against free practitioners of their arts, but the neutrality of these claims is doubted. It may be propaganda.

    ‘Twas ever thus.

  • Verity

    And those poor little children will grow up cleaving to the school and the state, which will be all they have known during their conscious hours. The Kelly hours!

    (How much of a nutter is she to name an “educational” programme after herself?)

    Those children will get home at seven, bathe themselves while mummy jams something into the microwave and switch on the TV in their bedroom while mummy and daddy deflate from the day with a bottle of Chardonnay.

    Home will become a dormitory.

    God, I hate the slithy bliar and all his works.

  • Luniversal

    Verity: Yes dear, we know you do.

    It’s a toss-up which trade unions are more conservative, more reflexively suspicious of all change, these days: the teachers or the firemen? Or maybe the probation officers. Enclaves of tax-subsidised unawareness of all that has happened to Britain since c. 1975, hugging to themselves the thought that whatever happens, they can’t privatise *us* or remove *our* indexed pensions. Oh yeah?

  • GCooper

    Verity writes:

    “(How much of a nutter is she to name an “educational” programme after herself?)”

    I confess, I read that she wants them known as ‘Kelly hours’ with utter astonishment.

    What sort of megalomaniac have we got here?

  • rollo

    How odd. I find it hard to comprehend the naivete of some armchair economists when it comes to the subject of education. Let me spell it out simply – state intervention of some degree will NEVER be removed from education. The sphere of education does not, and can not, adhere to the free-market principles that you can apply to the consumer goods market. They’re apples and oranges, people. We can aim to reduce the role of the state, but it will always be there in one form or another.

  • Duncan Sutherland

    Rollo…. I’d like to see you back that up… I think the burden is on you to prove why education is different than any other market.

    “We can aim to reduce the role of the state, but it will always be there in one form or another [in education].”

    This may be true, but it won’t be because it couldn’t work without it.

  • Michael Taylor

    Yeah, c’mon Rollo, let’s be having your arguments on that one. But be realistic, don’t be satisfied with endowing the State with a right to set curriculas, or even provide back-stop funding for education . . . let’s hear your arguments why the public sector should be a quasi-monopoly provider of education services. After all, it’s worked so well in every other field of human endeavour. . .

  • Rollo

    Who said anything about supporting a “quasi-monopoly provider of education services?”. I said no such thing. I did however, say that some level of state involvement is inevitable. There are a few good reasons for this, some even make sense economically, fancy that!

    First of all, what about Guerney’s studies in the late 1980s contrasting the changes in subject-specific employment rates vs. university applications for those same subjects? His findings imply that pure market forces alone will fail to provide a satisfactory quantity of skilled employees due to the clash between short-term market objectives and long-term economic and employment objectives. Thus, some intervention is required.

    Secondly, the concept of “choice” as applied in say, a free market for consumer goods does not apply in the same manner in the market for a child’s education. There are many limiting factors and barriers to entry for educational institutions, including geographical and religious considerations, notwithstanding the possibility that a parent’s preferred choice of school may be full.

    The state may not be the preferred, or “best” choice to set a curriculum, but if not the state, then who? A consortium of privately-funded educational institutions? Why would they bother – what is their reward? Or if not them, perhaps the parents? The answer to the latter possibility would seem to have been conclusively proven with the voucher experiment in Alum Rock in the USA, which failed outright in its attempt to incentivise parents to become more autonomous and involved.

    Also, who is the school untimately serving? The students, the parents, or the shareholders? In a completely market-driven structure,resources given to students with higher marginal costs (i.e. disabled, special needs, etc.) would quickly be sidelined in favour of those more fortunate (i.e. those with a higher profit margin). A completely free market in education can provide a basis for the education of the wealthy elite, but it cannot provide a basis for organizing education in its entirety. Have we even considered the efficiency-equity tradeoff?

    A final difference is that you do not have to buy particular goods or services in the free market, but you are compelled to “buy” education for your children. In an education system that insists on evaluating children competitively, no parent can ensure a successful purchase (as they can in terms of value for money in a free consumables market).

    In short, it might not be the most efficient system, but some state involvemnt (even at a minimal level) is necessary to “paper over the cracks” and ensure an equitable system for all.

  • Euan Gray

    The question needs to be split between the general regulation of the education system on the one hand and the entities that provide the education on the other.

    For the provision of education, in general competing private establishments will be more efficient than state organisations. However, a wholly private system will inevitably result in the situation arising where some parents cannot afford the fees charged. It is perhaps doubtful that charitable activities can make up all the shortfall here, although they can certainly cover some of it. The probability of requiring state intervention in the form of taxpayer subsidy for some families is pretty high.

    For the regulation and direction of education, the state is generally going to be more effective because – as Rollo says – it can take a long term strategic view of the issue which the market is not good at doing. The state can also require that people actually be educated, which the market cannot do at all.

    It is sometimes objected that education should be voluntary. Principled though this objection is, it is not grounded in reality. In former times, uneducated people could find work as agricultural labour and so forth, but this is increasingly not the case. For better or worse, life is now very much more complex than it was in the 18th century, and it is practically impossible to make much headway without some degree of education. Those who call for education to be voluntary really need to take a long hard look at this reality, and could probably benefit from a sober assessment of just how far they would get in life without any education. They should also ponder what they would do with the unemployable and uneducated underclass that thus emerges – the same problem as we have in the UK now with the illiterate teenagers, but MUCH bigger.

    It therefore seems reasonable that the state should compel some degree of education, but that the private sector should provide most or all of it, or rather that the parents should be free to decide how to provide it (in practice the vast majority would send their children to a school). The state would again reasonably be expected to be involved in subsidising education for those otherwise unable to afford it. To this extent, the state is going to remain involved in education, whatever else changes.

    EG

  • Verity

    I am suprised at David. This is one more of Toneboy’s ill-thought through spiffy ideas that he’s going to tie onto the education with bits of string and safety pins. It’s a mess, as is everything else this gang that can’t shoot straight thinks up. (I’ll bet Tone’s eating nails that he didn’t get in first with the announcement and call them Tony Time.)

    Has anyone else noticed that this Kelly is a complete Cherie type? Fat, appalling dresser, bevy of children, Catholic, mumsy sense that she knows better than everyone else?

  • Rollo,

    First of all, what about Guerney’s studies in the late 1980s ….

    Never heard of it. There are all manner of surveys, studies and reports floating around all making claims that strangely seem to reflect the opinions of the authors and presenting the same as ‘scientific data’.

    There are many limiting factors and barriers to entry for educational institutions, including geographical and religious considerations, notwithstanding the possibility that a parent’s preferred choice of school may be full.

    Who said anything about ‘schools’, i.e. daycare prisons. You seem to be unable to imagine a world without a ‘state school system’.

    The state may not be the preferred, or “best” choice to set a curriculum, but if not the state, then who?

    Oh dear. ‘If the state does not make washing machines, then who will’? The point is, dear Rollo, that there is no single, national ‘curriculum’ at all. Who decides what fare will be shown on a restaurant menu? The government?

    Also, who is the school untimately serving?

    It’s customers who will be free to take their business elsewhere.

    …buy particular goods or services in the free market, but you are compelled to “buy” education for your children.

    Are you not ‘compelled’ to buy them food and clothes? What’s the difference?

    In short, it might not be the most efficient system, but some state involvemnt (even at a minimal level) is necessary to “paper over the cracks” and ensure an equitable system for all.

    The ‘cracks’ are entirely the fault of state intervention in the first place.

    All in all, the same old motheaten cliches from someone who is unable to see the world through anything except the ‘central planning’ paradigm.

  • Verity,

    Regardless of what his intentions or aspirations were or are, Mr. Blair has done something that means we will see the first green shoots of market mechanism being introduced into education.

    Ideas are more important than personalities. The latter come and go.

  • Verity

    David, I take your point and you may be proved right. But I think it will never, under this regime, be allowed to flourish. If it begins to look successful, it will be cut back through regulation and interference.

    But we’ll see. This is one instance in which I would like to be wrong.

  • Tim

    Everyone should remember one thing. When a trade union states that they are in favour of something, it is for the ends of the union.

    When they say that privatising the health service would harm patients, what they actually mean is that privatising the health service would result in lots of small, competing hospitals where collective bargaining would disappear, and along with it, the trade union.

    Who needs unions? These aren’t the days of the village with a pit and tied houses. We are mobile creatures now who can move on as we wish.

  • Rollo

    David,

    That’s a feeble retort, even by your standards.

    “Never heard of it. There are all manner of surveys, studies and reports floating around all making claims that strangely seem to reflect the opinions of the authors and presenting the same as ‘scientific data’.”

    Such a, er… the tripe that you regularly churn out under the banner of the Libertarian Alliance, maybe?

    “Who said anything about ‘schools’, i.e. daycare prisons. You seem to be unable to imagine a world without a ‘state school system’.”

    It’s frequently the manner of the weak debater to cast aspersions when they cannot argue a point. Next!

    “Are you not ‘compelled’ to buy them food and clothes? What’s the difference?”

    Explain in 100 words or less, the differences between the economic barrriers to entry of both a supermarket and a school. Then come back and answer the original point.

    “The ‘cracks’ are entirely the fault of state intervention in the first place.”

    Please explain why, and don’t just use your usual device of lazily repeating the same mantra and then sidling away when asked to elaborate or qualify with actual evidence.

  • Rollo,

    Yes, yes. Lots of sneering but no trace of an attempt to rebut any of my points.

    I hereby pronounce myself the winner.

    Goodbye.

  • Rollo

    David,

    You are without doubt one of the most unintentionally hilarious people I have ever come across. And, for somebody who is a lawyer (or at least claims to be), probably one of the weakest debaters I have encountered.

    I think anybody living on planet Earth would realise that I have won this argument by a country mile.

  • Rollo,

    I save my serious arguments for serious people (i.e. not you).

    But please do not let this discourage you at all . Feel free to drop by again sometime and treat us all to another steaming pile of your insights.