Monday, June 11, 2007

Ban private schools?

Georges spotted the same Guardian article as I did here. It reports findings that by the age of three, children from poorer homes are already significantly behind in terms of development.

This is not directly relevant to the debate we are having here, though it does raise many related questions. In particular, notice that nowhere is it even suggested that the difference in development across social class between children at the age of three might be partly genetic/innate. The assumption made by the paper, and apparently by the researchers, is that native wit and talent is distributed fairly evenly across the social classes.

The fact that such differences in development might be even partly down to genetic differences is, for many, simply unthinkable. Certainly unsayable. (personally, I don't think they are genetic, despite Potentilla's earlier comment. but find it interesting the way this possibility is simply airbrushed out of the picture in The Guardian).

Georges, just to remind you: I would be equally happy with all schools private, and vouchers with no top ups. If you don't rate state provision on principle, fine (though it strikes me that for many, if not for you, "public bad, private good" is an article of faith, not a well-supported hypothesis).

In the next post I will answer George's request that I come up with a concrete alternative proposal to the current system. It'll be back-of-an-envelope stuff, but I'll give it my best shot.

14 comments:

potentilla said...

The point is not "public bad, private good". The point is "very large and centrally planned bad, smallish, locally responsive and able-to-go-bust good". These tend to correlate with public and private in practice, but need not, logically.

Why don't you think "they are genetic"? Or more accurately, do you discount there being any underlying average genetic difference, and if so why?

I don't, personally, have a clue whether there is any underlying genetic difference in respect of British classes, since I haven't researched it. Note that my previous comments were actually just intended to establish the fairly strong probability that (a) there is something real that exists to measure and (b) that is has a fairly strong hereditary component (estimates range from about 0.4 to 0.8 IIRC). Not that these facts have produced any average differences between different British populations.

I suspect it's an unresearchable topic, in fact; there probably just isn't any data.

cagliost said...

Stephen, just to clarify: when you say "I would be equally happy with all schools private, and vouchers with no top ups", do you mean all schools private with them all accepting either vouchers with no top ups, or entirely cash,

or do you mean all schools private, with none of them allowed to accept any cash - just vouchers?



"though it strikes me that for many, if not for you, 'public bad, private good' is an article of faith, not a well-supported hypothesis." I think it's a very well supported hypothesis. You've already quoted statistics showing people from private schools more likely to go to Oxbridge. I think it's fair to say that their school had a large role in this. (By "good", I mean educationally.)

If private schools weren't better than state schools, no one would pay for them.

cagliost said...

"Better", that is, for the people to go to them, at least.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Cagliost

I mean everyone gets a voucher for a fixed amount to spend at whatever school they like (assuming they can get their kid in). And that is the only option.

Oh yes, private schools are no doubt often better, but because they are private, or because they have more cash and a more middle-class intake? Well, I don't have a firm view on that. Do you?

Jeremy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremy said...

Hmm - that there is unfairness seems pretty incontrovertible, but is banning private schools the best option?

I'm not from England, so I am feeling my way around rather blindly, but it seems to me that a critical question would be: do private schools (on average!) actually provide a better eduction (rather than providing extra-academic benefits that enable scholars to get a leg up)?

The reason I say this is because if private schools really are better schools, then to ban them would seem (to me, at least) like too great a loss of a centre of excellence. Perhaps a better bet would be to acknowledge the unfairness, but to see it as the price you pay for the creation and maintenance of such high standards. You could certainly take steps to limit it (e.g. make it mandatory for there to be a high percentage of scholarships or bursaries to all private schools; clamp down on the influence of influence, etc.).

On the other hand, if private schools really don't (on average!) do a better job, then there really isn't much to recommend keeping the present system in place. There would be nothing to counterbalance the undeniable unfairness.

Thoughts?

georges said...

We shouldn't discount diet as a factor in childhood mental development.

I once read about a study which showed that you could significantly reduce criminal recidivism if you change prison food and give inmates vitamin supplements.

georges said...

I've told you about my own tribulations finding a school for my children.

One thing I will say is that state primary schools in England now have an excellent literacy strategy, based on good up-to-date scientific research.

My eldest son, who had two years in a state primary before moving to a private school, has a more advanced reading age than my second son, who has been educated exclusively privately.

John said...

"everyone gets a voucher for a fixed amount to spend at whatever school they like (assuming they can get their kid in). And that is the only option."

Would this leave any incentive for a school to do well? After all, increased demand for the services of a good school under this voucher system would not lead to any benefit for that school.

John

georges said...

If you have a voucher system without top-ups, the best-performing schools will soon be massively oversubscribed (and the worst under-subscribed). So the important question becomes, "what criteria do the oversubscribed schools use to ration school places"?

If they ration by catchment area, people will continue to buy school places via increased mortgage payments - the PRINCIPAL way people currently buy educational advantage in the UK.

If they do it by academic testing that would be much fairer.

cagliost said...

"Oh yes, private schools are no doubt often better, but because they are private, or because they have more cash and a more middle-class intake? Well, I don't have a firm view on that. Do you?"

No, I don't. I was disagreeing with you saying "'public bad, private good' is an article of faith, not a well-supported hypothesis." I don't know why they produce better results, but it's certainly a well-supported hypothesis that they do (at the moment, under the present system).

I was assuming that by 'public bad, private good' you were referring to average educational standards, rather than morally good or whatever.

(Perhaps if I hazard a guess, I'd say that schools are good if the ethos is good - if everyone "wants to learn". This happens in state schools, but it seems to be the case more in private schools. Probably because if it wasn't, no one would go to the private school. And also because if kids know their parents are paying thousands, they're not going to mess it up (there are exceptions!). And general middle-class attitude. Paying is a good way to ensure that your kid ends up with a load of like-minded kids.)

cagliost said...

"I once read about a study which showed that you could significantly reduce criminal recidivism if you change prison food and give inmates vitamin supplements."

"Influence of supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behaviour of young adult prisoners"
http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/abstract/181/1/22

Stephen Law said...

Hi Cagliost

By "public bad, private good" I meant the mindset that says providing public services etc is always best done through private companies, not public bodies. I didn't just mean schools.

Stephen Law said...

Georges

I wouldn't necessarily prosecute the parents who try to buy private ed. We could simply prosecute the "underground" schools that try to sell it.

But let's go back to my "private Oxbridge" example. Were Oxbridge to adopt such policies (essentially those of private schools) I guess we very probably would legislate against them on the grounds that they are socially divisive, socially damaging and grossly unfair. If a college did then illegally accept poorly qualified rich students for backhanders, it could be prosecuted (we would not necessarily have to prosecute the parents /student). So why not in this case too?