JANUARY 31st 2006
I was rather hoping I would not have to explain what is going on in the current debate over the government's white paper on education reform. On the one had you have its backers including the Sec of State for Education, the PM, various advisors, much of the profession and nearly all of the Tory party, not quite enough of the labour party. Its opponents are spread throughout the rest but particularly in those who take the straightforward view that what people want is not more choice, or more more freedom for schools to run their own affairs, but an improvement, if it is needed, in their local school. These people think the reforms will not achieve this. They wish to have a local opportunity they can take, rather than a theoretical choice they probably can't for a variety of reasons.

So, what's the answer? The answer is both approaches could work, but the argument is probably at cross-purposes. The advantge of the proposed reforms is that it will allow well managed schools to look after themselves, establish best practice and take advantage of their freedom to achieve this. John Prescott thinks this will automatically be to the disadvantage of the other schools. If nothing else was done, this could be true. But once we have many schools lookin after themselves and their standards, with local authority and government just monitoring to ensure their entrance criteria and application does not descriminate, local and centra government can zero in with funds, support and special interventions on those of the rest who are exhibiting problems. This is therefore the way to get maximum performance out of those who can manage their affairs well, and maximum improvement in those who really need help.

On the other hand you could leave things as they are but just try to sort out the mess without engaging the liberated efforts of the newly freed establishments. This is the way preferred by all those whose life is driven by the urge for egalitarianism. It is not the best way, unless the educational establishment on average when given freedom is not socially responsible, and local and national government is incompetent in doing the work that falls on it to complete the picture. Policy driven by people who harbour some sort of resentment, feelings of guilt or are driven by jealousy, is rarely the best. But, as I say, either can give an improvement if properly applied, or produce adverse effect if not properly applied .But one engages of them far more talent and will give the best results nationally.