Academisation is also not the answer to failing UK education

The truth about the government’s plan to turn all state schools into academies is that progress made by putting power back in the hands of school governors and head teachers over pay, length of the school day, term times and curriculum, is negated by the regressive measure of taking away from local governments the power to distribute funding for schools.

The most democratic and rational way to calculate how much funding a school should receive is through individual choice expressed through the profit and loss mechanism. (Such as how our choices as consumers determine how much funding each supermarket, for example, receives and indeed how many exist).

But, absent a free and fully privatised market in education, it is better that local governments distribute school funding than bureaucrats in central government armed with funding formulas. The latter doing so is the least democratic way because it is putting that power into the hands of a relative few in central government and not the relative many local councillors across the land, who are at least directly accountable to parents and head teachers in their respective communities.

It’s also the least rational way because no one has a greater incentive to produce outcomes that satisfy parents and head teachers in any given community than local councillors. The latter depend upon the former’s votes and, as members of the community themselves, are usually directly or indirectly affected by their own decisions. Local councillors who fail to satisfy at least most parents and head teachers in their community regarding distributing school funding are invariably voted out, which leaves them having to find a job. In short, local councillors pay a price for being wrong – i.e. not pleasing most parents and head teachers.

What price will decision-makers in central government and the Secretary of State pay for getting it wrong? What consequences will they suffer if most parents and head teachers in any given community aren’t satisfied with the funding distribution decisions? The most rational possible school funding distribution from the perspective of communities won’t necessarily match what seems most rational in the minds of decision-makers in central government and the Secretary of State, who aim to achieve national political goals, not local social goals.

Deregulating the product of education and allowing innovation in the education market is laudable, but further concentrating power over (re)distributing school funding is lamentable – not to mention incoherent. Given the rapid rise and growth of some academy chains over the last few years, it seems likely that in the future we will see a few or several academies, governing a large proportion of state schools between them, swallowing up most of the funding.

If this does happen, then these academy chains could find themselves with too many schools to cope with and thus ultimately failing students and parents in much the same way that the government department for education has failed generations of parents and children for a century and a half.

There are other dangers too. Special interest groups, particularly religious ones, could gain control over large numbers of schools across the country by exploiting the power of single academies to govern multiple schools. Which would surely be horrifying to a nation that prides itself on having a secular state education system and a solid separation of religion and State.

Funding schools through central government might seem like a magical way of increasing education funding, but remember that government doesn’t have money, it only has our money. And it can only get more money by taking more from us now or more from our children in the future.

I suspect the current Chancellor and Minister for Education believe that this new system of central government control will lead to a more rational and less wasteful allocation of funding to schools, but in time it will become glaringly evident that the opposite is true.

What is curious about this conservative government’s plans to turn all state schools into academies is that it was the ‘liberals’ of the last Labour government that dreamed up the academy concept and policy. Back then it was essentially a last-resort State intervention intended to improve the worst schools in the poorest areas. Central government would come in and appoint new management and provide funding for the ‘failing’ school – like some sort of bureaucratic A-Team.

It appears this seemingly moderate, measured and necessary use of State interventionism left a lasting impression on the young conservatives who are now in the highest positions of power in government. Here is yet another illustration of how the political Left and Right are in complete agreement when it comes to their belief in the efficacy and virtue of State intervention; they only differ on how much intervention should be used and how it should be done. It’s a perilous time indeed for individual liberty when everyone along the political spectrum are socialists, but swear they’re not.

The BBC says that teachers unions have long argued that ‘academisation’ is the Tory government’s stealthy way of privatizing education. Today’s generation of unionised teachers are so ignorant of basic economics and have such confused thinking that they cannot even identify the thing they hate with a passion. So corrupted is their understanding of it that they mistake the opposite for it.

This is testament to state education’s inability to produce a smarter people and to its power to bring a population to have a blind faith in government action to achieve social progress – and so to abandon much faith in the only thing that has ever manifested it: individual liberty.

In the late 19th century and through into the early 20th, champions of modern liberalism and progressivism, which hold the coercive apparatus of the State as the most effective and virtuous means to social progress, persuaded British society to delegate that responsibility to government.

What urge primarily drove them, I wonder? Was it to enable the masses to think for themselves? Or was it to enable themselves, as the intellectual class, to think for the masses (via a monopoly on education) in the hope of realising their own grand plans for society? But, I digress.

We need to abolish the institute of State Education before it becomes a more dangerous vehicle for greater and further social regression in our society. This crumbling and rotten edifice is held up by nothing but a collective, irrational fear that the private sector won’t provide education for all. Far from it being crazy to think society can provide education as well as it does food, clothing and zillions of other things, it’s crazy to believe it can’t.

The technology of our age means society is more capable than its ever been (and it has always been capable) of providing education to all children of a quality far beyond that which the State can produce and at a cost lower than state education could ever go.

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