Watching the US film Waiting for Superman I was struck by how similar much of the education debate is in America to hear. There is the desperation of parents who can't afford school fees to have the choice of a good school for their children. It takes particular graphic form there with the lottery as you see the faces of triumph of despair when a number comes out. There is the ferocious opposition of the teaching unions to reform and their determination to prevent bad teachers being sacked. Also the positive message that failure is not inevitable.
Since the film came out school choice in the US has been on the advance in various forms – vouchers, tax credits, Charter schools, home schooling, online learning. In Milwaukee school choice has been operating for long enough for its benefits to be established. Not least as the competition forces bad schools to close and drives up the standards in the state schools.
A National School Choice Week takes place with thousands of schools participating to celebrate what is being achieved.
These reforms are also taking off in other countries:
- New Zealand. Their version of free schools, called Partnership Schools, are being set up. There is particularly strong support from Maoris who have most to gain from escaping failing schools.
- Education vouchers in Punjab, over 140,000 children at low-cost private schools – "better outcomes for less cost." Punjab also has it own free schools – "New Schools Programme, which funds non-state providers to open schools."
- In Chile education vocuchers have improved standards – especially for the poor. Between 2000 and 2010 there were nearly half a millon pupils who migrated to voucher schools – 2,000 new schools opened and 500 schools closed. Take a wild guess if the schools that closed were good or bad?
There are plenty of other examples of school choice being successfully applied – notably in Canada and Sweden. Most of this predates the reforms of our own Education Secretary Michael Gove. However I do think that Mr Gove's efforts will be of interest to other countries.
Will we one day speak of Goveism in respect of school reform. The success of Thatcherism was brought home to me in I think 1993 when I went along to an international privatisation conference in Westminster. There were ministers from eastern and central Europe, Africa, Latin America. All very keen.
Will we one day have education ministers from around the world turning up in London to find out about school choice?
I'm sure Mr Gove would point out that the thinking preceded him. But then Lady Thatcher said the same about Thatcherism. Speaking to Scottish Conservatives she said:
I'm sometimes told that the Scots don't like Thatcherism. Well, I find that hard to believe—because the Scots invented Thatcherism, long before I was thought of.
It is more than two hundred years since Adam Smith, David Hume, Adam Fergusson and others first set out their ideas of a world in which wealth would be generated and spread ever more widely.
They saw that it's not Government which creates wealth—it's people. That People do best when they pursue their own vision. And that a wise Government will harness the efforts of individuals to improve the well-being of the whole community.
So they proposed to restrain Government and to liberate men and women.[fo 3]
Mr. President, those are the ideals I hold most dear. And they had their origins in the Scottish Enlightenment.
School choice was part of Thatcherism unfinished business – it is a Scot who completing the task.