I am exploring the suggestion that we ban private schools. You have come up with a great many objections, including these seven:
1. The state cannot deliver quality education.
My response. Then let’s have a voucher system in which the state and private schools compete for children. But with NO TOP UPS. And no alternative. This allows private provision and healthy competition. But all schools remain funded by general taxation. And the rich cannot buy their children a better education by "topping up" the voucher's value.
2. The middle classes will still have an unfair advantage by being able to move close to the best schools.
My response. We can deal with this by making the value of the voucher dependent on the socio-economic intake of the school. The more wealthy all the parents sending kids to a school are, on average, the less any voucher spent at that school is worth. Adjust the voucher values accordingly and you can make sure that the middle classes won’t clump together around the best schools. The incentive to send your kid to a school with lots of middle class kids will be balanced by the disincentive that the school will, as a consequence, be that much less well funded (note we can actually let the market determine the cash value of having lots of middle class kids at a school, and adjust funding to compensate)
3. Parents will play the system by, e.g. pretending to be poor single parents when they’re not.
My response. This pretence will give them no advantage. Think about it….
4. Funding is not the issue. It’s things like peer group etc that really make the difference to the quality of schooling.
My response. The variable value voucher system deals with this – by not just leveling the playing field in terms of amount spent on education, but also by ensuring a much better social mix. To repeat, we won’t have the middle classes clumping round all the good schools, leaving working class ghettos.
5. Banning private schools won’t have any affect on the inequalities that exist within the 93% who currently are not private educated.
My response. First, even if this was true, it wouldn’t be a reason not to ban private schools. Just because a measure deals with only one layer of inequality, not all, is not a reason for not introducing it. Second, in any case, the variable voucher system will have a major affect on dealing with inequalities within the 93%. For the richest won’t now have an incentive to buy near middle class schools.
6. Reducing the quality of education available to the top 7% does nothing to help the others.
My response. Yes it does. Half of all Oxbridge places currently go to those 7%. They also dominate the high earning, high status professions. On the assumption that native wit and talent is distributed fairly evenly across the social classes, this means that brighter, more talented children are losing out in terms of life chances because the parents of small minority paid for a superior education. By going private, you aren’t just helping your own child’s life chances, you are also damaging the life chances of other, more talented children.
7. Parents have a right to spend their money on a better education for their children, if they so wish.
My response. If buying your child a private education had no effect other than to improve your child's education, then no doubt this is true. But what if, by buying your child a better education, you are thereby damaging the life chances of other, more talented children? Which you are.
Consider my earlier analogy: if Oxbridge adopted a private school model (i.e. dropping selection by ability and instead flogging off places to the richest 7%, who then, as a result, went on to dominate the high-earning, high-status professions) there would rightly be outrage (see my earlier post on this analogy). Such a university system would be considered grossly unjust, highly socially divisive, and, worst of all, a shameful waste of the country's talent.
I don’t yet see why we should view private schools any differently.