Friday, April 23, 2010

Tory plans for schools 'most interesting idea of this election'

Last week I wrote about how the Conservatives' school policy would benefit Jewish schools - specifically, allowing parents and other interested groups to open more schools in areas where there is demand, quickly and with state funding straight away.

The Economist now has a comprehensive piece on the Tory plans for the education system - which it says may be "the most interesting idea in this election":

Labour’s manifesto still talks about parent power. In their version, parental ballots could be held and local-government officials would have to sack head teachers or hand schools over to be run by more successful ones, if that was what parents said they wanted. But it adds up to very little. Real parent-power is what the Tories are proposing, in their plan to let parents set up brand new state-funded schools. (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all run their own schools, so the Tories’ writ would run only in England.)

Will it work? The evidence from other countries is broadly positive. Swedes in general approve of their new schools, and the parents who patronise them are satisfied too: nine in ten say they are happy with their children’s education, compared with under two-thirds of parents with children at state-run schools. Studies have found that they have better results, and also spur improvements in nearby state-run schools. The system as a whole responds better to parents’ wishes, too: if local authorities try to close a much-loved small rural school, parents simply apply to open their own one. When officials realise that the hoped-for efficiency savings will not materialise, they back down...

Many worry that the Tories’ plans, for all their benefits for the middle-class, would offer little to the downtrodden. The Conservatives counter by saying that the new schools would have to abide by the old admissions rules, with no interviewing of applicants and no preference for able students. International evidence is reassuring. A study in Sweden in 2003 found no indication that low-earning parents were less likely to pick free schools than richer ones. America’s charter-schools are mostly in deprived areas, and most of the pupils they teach are black and poor.

Read the whole thing here.

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