The notion that the government should get out of the business of providing education and instead grant vouchers to parents to spend on schooling their children where they like is a notion that I instinctively agree with, but on further reflection, I think that there are some important caveats that need to be made on such a position in order for such a proposal to actually work.
Here's a thought experiment:
Imagine that we have vouchers and that therefore parents can spend their vouchers and contribute their own funds on top of the vouchers. I presume that this is traditionally possible under voucher schemes.
Now, at the moment, if the parents of a child want to take hir out of state schooling and put hir into private education, they must meet the full additional cost. However, with vouchers, those who can afford even a small amount of money beyond the vouchers can send their child to a better school.
What I imagine that would lead to would be a greater flight of the middle classes from what are currently comprehensive schools to what are currently grammar / independent / grant-maintained schools. To higher-quality schools, anyway. Leaving those without the ability to pay with a mediocre school and, far more importantly in my view, surrounded by all those others who cannot pay for a better school either. Poor families are disproportionately dysfunctional, and so the poorer schools would be disproportionately stocked with dysfunctional pupils, who not only fail to attain themselves, but can hold back the attainment of others. That's what I consider to be deeply unfair about vouchers.
If one stopped parents being able to pay on top of vouchers, you'd basically criminalize home tutoring and so on, which would be madness. And it probably wouldn't work anyway - the best schools would be oversubscribed and thus able to pick all of the least-likely-to-be-disruptive pupils, because they are cheaper to teach and are less likely to negatively affect other pupils' outcomes, maintaining their reputation as a good school.
My qualms are therefore twofold:
1. That by reducing the direct cost of improved education to parents, that more of the richer parents will take their better-quality pupils to better quality schools, thereby giving their children an advantage over others that is solely due to ability to pay. This does not sit well with my egalitarian beliefs that everyone should get the same life chances, as far as we are able to give them.
2. That by allowing schools the power to select their intake, coupled with a requirement to teach each child for £x000, will naturally encourage all schools to select the pupils that are cheap to teach, which are largely the bright and hard-working.
I would therefore like to propose a different market-based solution to the problem of privatizing education, to be discussed in a later post.