Leading Article: Giving parents greater choice

Share
Related Topics
AS THEY prepare for the new school year, many parents are discovering a gap between the rhetoric and the reality of 'parental choice'. Like the Russian economy, education under the Tories is at an uneasy point half-way to a market system. Demand for education has been set free, but supply has not. In many respects - ranging from who may start a new school, to how an existing school may spend the money it receives from government, and how schools are opened and closed - central control over education remains as stifling as ever.

Yet the ideas of the new National Health Service could also be applied to schools. Just as housing associations and local councils can team up with private house-builders to provide low-cost homes, so could headteachers open schools in 'education parks', where high-quality facilities could be shared with other schools, colleges or universities. Like NHS fund-holding doctors who send their patients to private hospitals when the local public hospital cannot treat them straight away, schools could buy in language teaching or the use of sports halls from companies or other schools. A paper published this morning by the Social Market Foundation points out that such practices are still isolated but could be more widely applied.

Michael Fallon, the paper's author, wants to go further still. He believes that the central flaw of the current system is that bad schools are not allowed to fail, and consequently the opening of new schools, with the new approaches and new ideas they might bring, is stymied. At the moment, a new school can open only if Whitehall believes there is a 'basic need' for more places in the area. If existing local schools have vacancies - no matter how much parents would prefer to send their children elsewhere - then opening a new one is almost impossible. This was the rule that is said to have prevented state funding of Islamia school in north-west London earlier this month.

Mr Fallon, a junior education minister until he lost his parliamentary seat in 1992, believes that civil servants should instead let new schools open, whether or not there is a 'basic need' for more places, if they can drum up enough interest from local parents. With access to capital and buildings equal to that of existing schools, he thinks, new schools would exert competitive pressure on the country's worst schools.

This approach has its drawbacks: school closures would affect the least advantaged children, and moving to a new institution would be disruptive. There is doubt about how much competition could be achieved - for simple geography means that even in cities, parents are unlikely to have more than two or three secondary schools to choose from. Local councils and teachers might resist closures dictated by the 'markets' as much as they today resist closures by bureaucratic fiat. And though the proposals would improve value for money in the long run, they would initially add to the education budget rather than reduce it.

With its current weakness, John Major's government is unlikely to take up Mr Fallon's ideas. But the former education minister is right in identifying what is wrong with the current system - and right in implying that the Tories must either go further in reforming education, or revert to the old system and try to make it work better.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'