Michael Meacher: Education reforms are still on the wrong track

A modernised public-service model would raise educational standards

Share

The latest moves to square the circle over education reform are admittedly ingenious, even if superficial. Tony Blair now proposes that schools must act in accordance with the code on admissions. But the code is not statutory. The local admissions forum could "report" if a school has too few poorer children, but cannot enforce change. A local authority could apply to the Education Secretary to set up a new community school, but would then have to win a competition against other bids to do so.

All these ideas would help to block the worst effects of the White Paper's proposals for unfettered expansion of popular schools, an admissions policy which could indirectly reintroduce selection in some form, and external sponsors whose interest will not be focused on the performance and interaction between all schools in the area. But attempts to redress the defects of an unsatisfactory and inappropriate education reform model are, and can only be, partially successful.

The underlying problem remains that the basic structure being proposed is simply wrong. There is no evidence that increased market competition drives up standards for all. Indeed, non-selective systems achieve the highest standards and lowest social differentiation in achievement. Finnish pupils emerge top overall from an OECD assessment of 43 countries, and their schools operate no selection at all between nursery and 16 years, and reject constant testing.

What is needed is a wholly different model - not tinkering with structures and private markets, but a relentless focus on high-quality school leadership, the recruitment and professional development of teachers, close monitoring of each pupil's progress, high expectation of all pupils, effective communication between parents and school, and the ability constantly to self-evaluate.

Resources should then be targeted on pupils with the most challenging home backgrounds who by age 11 are falling behind in basic literacy and numeracy skills. This modernised public-service model would raise overall educational standards far more effectively than spending £5bn on 200 academies.

This pattern is not confined to education. Market forces are also being brought to bear on all other public services - health, housing, pensions, even probation - with similar effects. It is argued in favour of this process that it forces attention on weaknesses in the public system and pushes through change ruthlessly. It is also said that it compels a shake-up of the public-service model to see how it can better adapt and improve. The critical issue is whether any gains produced are outweighed by the corresponding disadvantages of the alternative market model.

For the health service, the main private market gains claimed are a considerable reduction in waiting times and greater choice. It is true that waiting lists have been cut by about a third overall, though this may flow more from the doubling of the health budget since 1997 than from market choice.

But the downsides of private health care are substantial. There is pressure to prioritise patients needing standard, low-risk, profitable treatment. Competition is not on a level playing field - privately owned Independent Treatment Centres are paid well above NHS national tariff rates and are guaranteed revenues from fixed-volume contracts even if patients don't use them. And suspicion lingers that what are sold as remedies to specific NHS problems may turn out to be the thin end of a full-scale privatisation wedge.

If that is the price of private health care, most would consider it far too high. But a robust, reinvigorated public-service model should be able to incorporate the gains without these severe drawbacks.

A similar pattern once again is manifest in housing. The Government inherited an enormous bill of £19bn for investment for repairs and improvements in council housing. Its refusal to finance these unless tenants vote for the outsourcing of estates to the private sector has its parallels in other sectors. In education, the Building Schools for the Future programme is being used to put pressure on local authorities to accept academies whether they want them or not - "no academy, no funding".

Even in the pensions field, the same predilection to switch to the private sector can be observed, with disastrous consequences. The obsessive one-solution-fits-all pretension of privatisation is not working in any of our public services. But tinkering around with its failings is not enough; we urgently need now a robust assertion of the superiority of the public-service model.

The writer is a Labour MP and served as Environment Minister from 1997-2003

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
 

If Renee Zellweger wants to look different, who are we to question it?

Boyd Tonkin
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker