Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Wrong Way Round

Surely Tony Blair has got things the wrong way round when he says that you need more quality schools before you can introduce choice? Yes, quality schools are the object of education policy. But that is so obvious it barely needs stating. However, it is just wrong to say that "there can be no choice unless we're also putting in the investment to create better schools". The Labour-dominated education committee has already demonstrated that results from the Blair cohorts do not justify the massive expenditure increases - that in fact the Blair era has seen as much improvement in schools as the Major years.

Indeed, public service studies have shown over the years that more investment is not a catch-all solution. It might be easy to sell to the public, yes, but in terms of actual yields, it is far more questionable. This Canadian study shows that despite greater expenditure on healthcare than most other nations, the standards are not necessarily higher. The conclusion being, obviously, that reforming inefficient systems is far more important than just ploughing money into a system.

I'm not sold on any form of education voucher or education cheque scheme. Basically, I'm not sure that it provides the safety net, or the impetus for government to make change - in many ways, it just abrogates responsibility. If choice is to work, though, it relies on making the schools the harbingers of change; that the nature of competition is in itself enough to promote reform from within. Now, more investment may or may not be needed. But it's a completely separate argument from introducing choice. There's no need to conflate the two at all.

Except for the usual Blair trick - espouse one popular policy, and attempt to inextricably link it to something worse.