Tom Clougherty is executive director of the Adam Smith Institute, the UK’s leading innovator of free-market economic and social policies Baby Creative’s blog entry, A modest proposal; or why we should send young offenders to Eton, raises an interesting question: why is it that the private education sector can achieve better results and greater value for money than the public sector? The answer is a combination of: choice, competition, and independence.
In terms of choice, the thinking is simple: parents know their children best and are most well-equipped to choose a school. Additionally, schools come to see parents as active customers, rather than as passive recipients of a service. This kind of accountability is far more powerful than the accountability of schools to the state.
The key factor behind this is competition. If parents are not happy, they can take their children elsewhere. This happens all the time in the private sector. As a result, schools are extremely responsive to pupils’ needs. In the public sector, children are assigned to state schools geographically so such competition and accountability rarely happens.
Of course, no one would move if all private schools were the same, which is why independence is so crucial. Private schools do not have to comply with the latest whims of the Schools Secretary. Instead they are free to tailor the education they provide to the specific children they teach. They can afford to innovate. At the same time, independence means that funding goes straight to the front-line. In other words, more bang for the same buck.
But aren’t private schools just for the rich? Well, no, actually. There are now an increasing number of low-cost private schools operating in the UK. One such chain is run by the New Model School Company, which offers high-quality primary school education (in London) for around a thousand pounds a term.
But Britain is only part of the story. Compelling tales of low-cost private education can be found all over the slums and villages of the developing world. When Professor James Tooley visited the shanty-town of Makoko, in Nigeria, he discovered a particularly telling example. Makoko’s 32 private schools serve some 4,500 children – 75 percent of the total number enrolled. What’s more, children studying in these schools scored 14 percent higher in Maths tests and 20 percent higher in English tests than in government schools, despite considerably lower pay for private sector teachers. The private sector, once again, was delivering better results at a fraction of the cost.
And it is this, rather than Eton, which is the real story in private education today.