Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Reinventing the State Chapter 16: The State and Education

There is perhaps not much to say about John Howson's contribution. Simply by existing, it is a retort to the Orange Book which did not have a chapter on Education - although that book was half as long and half as costly as this one. And we should be talking about education more, as Nick Clegg has been saying.

There is much good, if not sparkling, analysis here, largely along the lines of our existing policies, and few big ideas to disagree with, or to agree with for that matter. Vouchers are rejected. Schemes to cut out the community rather than the government - such as foundation schools are criticised. The unfairness arising from faith schools admissions policies remarked upon, David Boyle take note. There is even, shock horror, a suggestion that some sort of market for training places might work better than the current, centrally planned, system. Do we have an Orange Booker in our midst?

Intriguingly John asks

To answer these questions it is also necessary to decide to what extent education is a private or a public good: investment for the individual's benefit or for the common good?

A fascinating question I think, particularly if you adopt a class analysis. Should schools serving largely working class areas focus on training contented workers, schools in middle class areas focus on the professions and management, and private schools focus on instilling the maximum smugness self-confidence in those born to lead? This will serve the common good most efficiently, as focussing on the odd child in the "wrong" school will use resources less efficiently.

On the other hand a policy of giving every child what is best for them is clearly uncommunautaire.

As far as I can tell John only answers a different interpretation of his question, which is a pity.

Anyway, in conclusion, ho hum, all very good, but avoids the really tough questions. We have a system that closes down schools which are failing because of difficult children, and those children move to another school which fails in turn. Should difficult children be shared out between all schools? (No!) That would give us a more equal system, but this more equal system would also suffer more disruption in total. More children's education would be damaged.

I wonder if we can't develop a system where the children who are willing to behave and work hard, irrespective of their ability, will always have an undisrupted learning environment found for them - in the next school if this one can't do it - irrespective of whether their parents are pushy enough to make it happen. And this opportunity might encourage a few more children to make an effort. This is not to suggest that I am assigning fault for disruptive behaviour, I am just looking for practical ways to minimise the damage that it does.

It is much easier just to talk about localism, isn't it.

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