Hands up for school choice in Britain.

The Conservatives aim to implement Swedish-style school choice for Britain.

Melanie Stetson Freeman / The Christian Science Monitor / File
Three teenage girls walk home after school in Portsmouth, England. Conservatives aim to extend school choice to Britain's schoolchildren, modeled on reforms in Sweden.

A few years ago, relatives of mine in India mentioned that they were profiting from investing in new private schools. Contrasted with the bureaucratic nightmare that is Britain's school system, this came as something of a surprise.

The Conservatives plan to adopt Swedish-style school reform would enable exactly the sort of innovation that is rapidly improving Indian schools, but was yesterday attacked by The Independent. They claim that the improvements in Sweden were only due to the fact that school choice was totally non-existent beforehand. The UK, with its 'extensive school choice' (for those who lie about their religion, or have the money to move to a new catchment area/pay privately) would see minimal improvements.

The fact that choice and competition amongst UK schools are really at the embryonic stage was missed by the great minds at The Independent. Failing schools are still insulated from the effects of poor performance and are accountable, not to parents, but to government bureaucrats who dole out the money. In the Swedish school system, the parents control the money and hold schools to account.

The Independent argues that some parents would not be as effective as customers because they "[lack the] personal resources to access and understand information about school quality". If they can distinguish this from Sir Humphrey Appleby's claims that the intellectual superiority of civil servants makes them better at choosing schools than parents, I'd welcome their rebuttal. However, they will also have to explain why the most enthusiastic supporters of school voucher programs in America live in deprived inner city neighbourhoods.

Similarly, the authors argue that teachers and head-teachers are against the plan. What they go on to say is that the National Union of Teachers is against it, which is not exactly the same thing. This is an opportunity. Only teachers who aren't competent have anything to fear.

However, it is hardly surprising that teachers unions are not too keen on the school choice program. Their counterparts in the USA persuaded President Obama to abandon it in Washington DC. Of course Obama had the means to educate his children privately. The unions' line appears to be that competitive education is good for the wealthy but not the poor. The ASI's line is much more egalitarian.

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