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GEGraham Evans is
Member of Parliament for Weaver Vale. Follow Graham on Twitter.

Progress is the
hallmark of Great Britain. To explore, to innovate, to push boundaries. There
is no greater mission than to educate our children to think and dream. For that
reason I have always been an advocate of progress in education – drawing on the
great work of teachers here and abroad, building on the education acts of 1944
and 1988 to provide the best for all our children, no matter their home lives
or abilities.

That is why I
welcome the core concepts of The Centre for Market
Reform of Education’s (CMRE)
latest discussion paper, Creating
a Functioning Education Market in England
, which draws on Gabriel H.
Sahlgren’s book Incentivising
excellence
to examine how we can learn from the international
experience of school choice to improve educational standards in our system.

I am very proud to
have been involved in the set-up of the Sandymoor Free School in my
constituency in 2012 which is now providing rigorous and academic education for
its pupils and raises the bar for surrounding schools. The concept of education
as a market with supply side dynamics does, on face value, sound odd, but the
concept of choice is not a new one – this is the legacy of the ’88 Education
Reform Act which saw the introduction of City Technology Colleges and Grant
Maintained Schools produce the first concept of “choice”. But the speed at
which these concepts have gained ground is slow. To some the introduction of
Free Schools has seemed like a sudden revolution, but in reality the
competition they create – forming the groundwork for Britain’s first education
market – has been 25 years in the making.


So what is the
benefit of choice? It means schools do not receive an automatic supply of
pupils to maintain the status quo. It is all too hard to turn around failing
schools, as we all know, when students and funding don’t stop coming. By
removing the guarantee of pupils, schools are forced to compete for their
intake. They must all look at the needs and expectations of pupils and parents –
consequently driving up educational achievement across their area.

However, even when
given a choice, people often still opt for the default local school even when
there are several options within a close proximity to each other. So how can a
real market dynamic be achieved? Gabriel H. Sahlgren, author of CMRE’s latest
publication, argues that further deregulation of Free Schools and the
introduction of a voucher system to provide direct funding for each pupil could
be the answer. Each school would then draw direct benefit from every pupil they
enrol – incentivising the growth of high performing schools and driving up
standards in all schools as they adapt to a more competitive environment. Each
pupil would receive proportional support and parents would be encouraged to
take control of their children’s education.

As the MP for
Weaver Vale, I deal with affluent areas and others with 50% child poverty
rates. It is clear to me that one size does not fit all when it comes to
education, and it is still the case that not all children get the specialised
focus or care that they deserve. This Government has committed to tailoring
funding to provide specialised support through the Pupil Premium, but it’s not
nearly nuanced enough. Furthermore, the current system of funding for schools
to address additional pupil needs is complex and deeply bureaucratic, sometimes
taking years to adjust to changes in the economic background of pupils moving
through schools. If we adopted a differentiated voucher system, taking fuller
account both of socio-economic background and learning needs, and making
schools accountable to parents for how that voucher was spent, as suggested by CMRE,
then that funding would be direct to the school each year (ensuring greater
accountability to the market), while enabling schools to address the individual
needs of pupils much more directly.

I welcome so much
of the innovative work that the Department for Education is undertaking:
creating teacher accountability, promoting Academies, enabling Free Schools and
tailoring funding for those who need it the most. But I want to see us push
these reforms further, to build on these steps, and by considering radical
ideas such as Sahlgren’s to create an education system that serves every child.

> Incentivising excellence: school choice
and education quality was published last
week by The Centre for Market Reform of Education at the Institute of Economic
Affairs. The author’s policy recommendations for the English education system are
given in a discussion paper, available to download from www.cmre.org.uk/publications

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