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An actual Conservative policy

This sounds promising:

The Tories’ flagship education policy to give parents more freedom to choose their children’s schools is to be dramatically expanded, the party has announced.

The “pupils passport” will be rolled out across England and Wales rather than just inner city areas as originally planned.

And so on. Basically it is education vouchers, but not called that.

There is even a good soundbite on offer:

“Under the Conservatives you’ll be able to go to the right school even if your family lives in the wrong street.”

Nice one. I was going to put this posting on my Education Blog, for obvious reasons. But thinking about it, I think the real significance of this announcement may be more what it says about the general attitude of the Conservatives.

Much as I dislike Tories because of the way they talk, dress, are, etc., this sounds very promising. Their problem for the last decade or so has been that they have simply stood up in the House of Commons and read out all the complaints everyone has had about what the government has done, is doing, or is about to do, regardless of whether the criticisms add up to a coherent alternative attitude to government. This tax increase is bad, but so is that spending cut. This attack on freedom is bad, yet this other attack on freedom is insufficiently ferocious. And their handling of the Iraq war has been a mess, I think. We aren’t sure about the war as a whole, but this … (fill in the detail of the week that they happen to be moaning about) … is terrible.

But this education announcement actually suggests a bunch of people who think that they might one day be the government. Three of four more announcements of this substantial sort, and the public might start to think of the Conservatives with a modicum of respect.

This is not what everyone would ideally like for education. That would be for everyone’s child to become a genius, with no effort, as a result of an infinitely powerful and infinitely nice Prime Minister with an infinitely nice smile waving an infinitely magic wand over each child’s head, causing all children everywhere to get ahead of all the other children everywhere else. But people are starting to get that a wish list is not necessarily a workable policy.

The Conservatives are never going to be liked. But people are starting to despise this government, for announcing rather too many wish lists – each one headed “dramatic new policy”, “radical shake-up”, etc. So even if people still quite like Tony Blair, they are starting to lose respect for him. If they ever start respecting the Conservatives more, then that will be a new phase of British politics, and a potentially Conservative phase.

4 comments to An actual Conservative policy

  • Tim Worstall

    You leave out some other implications of the policy : vouchers will quite obviously not pass through the LEA’s : at one bound the system will be free of a bureaucracy that swallows 30 % of all input. This has the interesting side effect of making state education equally funded with private at £5,000 or so a year per pupil (at the level of the school), without higher central government spending. And even more : removing education spending from local council budgets ( where it currently rests along with the LEA’s ) goes a long way to making local taxation more reasonable and responsive to local spending.

    There will of course be an outcry from the LEA staff as the implications sink in, that they’re all going to be out of a job soon, and yet there is even a solution to that inherent in the cunning plan. The number of LEA employees with teaching credentials is within a fag paper of those teaching posts unfilled by a shortage of trained graduates.

    So, real choice in schooling, abolition of a bureaucracy, solve the teacher shortage, end the “resources” crisis in state education and go at least halfway to getting a handle on council tax.

    Maybe my old flatmate will actually get re-elected, into Govt this time, and I can look forward to some falconeration ? Maybe just the odd quango post to start with ? Usual rules, all meetings held standing up, pay of those attending publicly calculated minute by minute, any decision costing more by that meter to take than is at stake immediately made by the Chairman and, most important, a sunset clause.

  • zmollusc

    Erm……..so, as I understand it, if you can send your kids where you like then everbody’s kids are sent to IdealSuperHighPassRateGroovySchool which has to expand in capacity by employing the teachers recently made redundant from the now empty and closed down ‘Duffers’ schools? And thus standards are raised.
    Is that how it works?

  • Guy Herbert

    Got it in one, Mr Mollusc. One would expect the closed Duffers schools to reopen under new management in due course.

    However, there is still a big flaw (or perhaps an undisclosed corollary) to the plan, which zmollusc’s comment neatly highlights. While the content of education remains nationalised, whether schools are good or bad depends on who goes there and who teaches there and little else. Freeing schools and parents to choose each other may just create a further polarisation of good and bad schools without altering average standards.

    For competition in education to serve the wants of parents and pupils there are three further necessary steps:

    1. Scrap the national curriculum. Hard because it is a Tory invention.
    2. Abolish the QCA. Ditto.
    3. Remove the prescriptive “right” to education, so that expulsion and exclusion are effective sanctions against poor behaviour.

    There are other things one might want to do, but without these any voucher system is likely to be of vbery limited value, and its benefits will be limited to decimation of LEAs (which, unfortunately for the plan, would nevertheless survive on a diet of other activities).

  • Eric

    Nice to apply this thinking to Health [well state medicine anyway – my own field – albeit not quite the same thing].

    Even nicer to apply it to the military, policing etc. Like: ‘I have an army voucher, a police voucher; thankyou very much, I will give the first to the Taliban and the second to the Mafia, or the Women’s Institute. I didn’t sign up to Phoney Tony’s latest war, the local council’s revenue Gatso etc., so you want me to carry the can, martyr myself, pay my speeding fine, whatever? S*d off!

    Yes! I like that very much indeed!