Hello, it's me again. And yes, I'm talking about education. But this time it's positive. This time it's all about solutions. Despite what my previous work might suggest, I actually think the government should step back from education - at least, to some extent. Here's why.

In the UK, there is a great discrepancy between 'private schools' and 'state schools', often with the former delivering better educational attainment and contributing more to their students' futures. Indeed, research by YouGov certainly suggests that, as people who went to comprehensive schools were less likely to rate their education as 'very good' compared to those who attended private schools. But it doesn't have to be like this.

The Adam Smith Institute (ASI), along with the rest of the free-market gaggle, have a wonderful solution; behold… school vouchers. This is where the state doesn't necessarily produce education at all, and, instead, it just provides students with a voucher for money that guarantees an education. This publicly-funded 'voucher', can then be used to send children to schools either in the public or private sector, removing the vast discrepancy between the two, and thus, 'levelling the playing field' for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. A blog from the ASI calls this the 'Third Way', as opposed to just abolishing private schools or buggering on with the current system - which clearly isn't working.

There is always much staff room talk about misbehaving children, a lack of discipline and melancholy attitudes to education. Have they ever stopped to ask why? Being in school is definitely not the same as learning, but our youth aren't even doing that. And why should they? Instead of being prepared for a modern, equitable, progressive 21st century, they are being drilled in memorization and standardisation. While these things may have been useful for a nineteenth-century factory worker, they are not what is needed in the creative and innovative workplaces of tomorrow.

School vouchers would provide parents and students with choice, and with funding that follows the student to whatever school they choose. Critically, lower-income parents would be able to take their children out of school, should they be displeased with the education currently being provided, and send them to another school of their choice. This school could be part of either state or private provision and provide parents with the means to make free decisions that were previously only reserved for those on higher incomes. And to attract such income, schools will differentiate themselves to remain competitive, raising the standard and diversity of education on offer to the children of this country.

Such reforms would not only change how we provide education but also what we provide. Opening what has ordinarily been seen as a state responsibility to competitive tender would allow innovation and the development of USPs, meaning competition on both quality and specialisation. Accompanied by the abolition of the National Curriculum - another bit of ASI magic. - then we arrive at a school system that allows passions and interests to be factored in. Schools, colleges and centres will be able to not only play to their particular organisational strengths, but offer education that focuses on different demands. I'm talking about STEM-intensive colleges, schools with reputations in the humanities, excellent sports academies, and centres that provide liberal arts and sciences education not usually seen until university.

One of the greatest blunders of the system - and there are plenty to choose from - is that we leave our flawed 'National Curriculum' in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians. How can they possibly know what matters to families and students across the UK? You're right, they can't. In fact, the person we once had in charge of the whole system has now been found to be a playground bully, after being as much use in the Department of Education as a chocolate kettle.. If this doesn't call for immediate reform, then I don't know what does.

By doing away with the National Curriculum, we may hope to breathe life into the teaching profession, recognising the role each individual teacher plays. This is because high-quality schools will look to recruit teachers that can deliver and contribute to that high quality, and therefore attract and retain students. This may incentivize teachers to search for ways in which to develop their careers and thus spur a renaissance in teaching and the high regard in which we should hold our educators.

So, we'd have teachers and students in the classroom - which always helps - and they actually would want to be there. It's a long shot, but we could eventually get to the stage where both teacher and student are passionate about what's being discussed in the classroom, and who knows, maybe students will stop counting the tiles on the ceiling during exams. But I understand there are a few sceptical empiricists amongst us, but fear not, I have come prepared. One of the most attractive aspects of a school voucher system is that we have compelling evidence to suggest that it enhances learning and attainment.

Sweden has been operating a choice-focused system since the '90s, and it has proved to be very popular among teachers and parents alike. Swedish independent schools approved by the National Agency of Education are entitled to receive funding from the state on a per student basis, provided that they meet certain criteria such as the ability to run a school and financial viability. This is regardless of who owns the school and who runs it. In a recommendation to the UK, the ASI highlights the competition that a voucher system introduces, allowing funding to take place based on the number of students these schools attract.

However, critics have cited that schools that have incentives to expand and enhance the quality they offer, will take the resources and best students away from those schools still managed by the state. This is known as the depletion argument, in that successful independent schools will further deplete the quality in the public sector. So, what they're saying is, some state-run schools will fail and we will only be left with high-quality, popular schools? If funding is going from the state-run schools to the incentivised independent schools then doesn't that indicate where our students are getting a better education?

Again, those voucher-sceptics may also highlight that profit-making in education is distasteful, even immoral. The same logic could arguably be applied to the fees students pay to apply for university, or the companies that profit from selling school resources etc. But competition will introduce some degree of cost control and market-based mechanisms to ensure efficiency in the way education is provided. Currently, state-run schools have no incentive to cut costs, and thus, our schools tend to be run rather inefficiently compared to those who face clear incentives to work towards more profitable, competitive positions.

But, I digress…

I regularly dish up reminders of my liberty-loving nature, and one of them is the fallacy that is generalisation. Some children develop earlier, others later, yet the National Curriculum and the bureaucrats that run the system will tell you that there is some 'deficiency' in the latter's learning if they have not met certain standards by a certain stage. That is untrue. Children's development cannot be categorised into KS1, 2 or 3, and neither can their competency in the classroom be measured by SAT, GCSE or, dare I say it, A-level exams.

John Abbott, president of the 21st Century Learning Initiative and respected British educator, asked what kind of thinkers our education should be producing: battery hens or free-range chickens? Children need an education that helps them explore, discover, create and innovate; not just memorise and standardise. Having a choice in their education might encourage such qualities, and kick-start a renaissance in both the production and consumption of education. Maybe now we have found a voucher for the future.

Archie Rankin
Archie Rankin

A young, pen-wielding Liberal with intellectual curiosities in all things politics, with huge appetites for history, philosophy and economics. Committed to making a positive difference for young people in my role as Associate Editor & Innovation Lead, constantly seeking out new ideas and approaches to drive innovation and progress.

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