ERC Research Papers
The Spectre at the Economic Feast
Published June 25th 2007
By Prof. Dennis O'Keeffe
he UK's educational status quo is dire; millions cannot read, write or count and millions more can do so only barely. The causes of our low standards lie in state-directed and financed education, which accounts for 93% of our education system. Meanwhile, the continuing inflation in private school fees (3 times the rate of inflation 1985-2005 or 103% in these two decades and hitting an annual rate of 6% in 2006, according to the Halifax) suggests two points;
i) That Private Schools work better than government schools
ii) That there aren't enough of them
As part of its ongoing Comparative Advantage Series, the ERC, Britain's oldest economics-based think tank, has commissioned Professor Dennis O'Keeffe to assess what is wrong with our education system and how to put it right. His conclusions are hard-hitting and will be upsetting to many vested interests. We think them worthy, however, of very serious consideration by policymakers.
O'Keeffe says that whilst there is no magic wand which could wave an end to Britain's education woes, we would go a long way to helping those at the wrong end of society if we were to:
Bring in small, cheap, private schools with generous, tax concessions by government and/or reliance on private philanthropy at nursery, primary and secondary levels.
• Reintroduce the 11 plus on a voluntary basis
• Reintroduce grammar schools, perhaps without catchment areas
• Close down much of the education bureaucracy and quangos and cut their regulations to a minimum
• Lower the school leaving age and reintroduce commercially based apprenticeships
• Decentralise drastically the remuneration of teachers
• Encourage prestigious schools like Eton and Harrow and other distinguished places to offer more scholarships and to open up lower-price wings
One issue that particularly concerned Professor O'Keeffe was the ongoing Tory debate over Grammar schools:
"Unlike David Cameron's parents who sent him to Eton, certain members of the modern Conservative Party appear not to understand the importance of competitive education and the dramatically effective way it encourages, identifies and rewards talent and consequently increases social mobility. Comprehensive schools with soft and easy access for all have not served the community well. They have served only to eradicate upward mobility, and done so, perversely, in the name of eradicating privilege".
As to why the UK puts up with such a poorly functioning education system, O'Keeffe says:
"Britain's education system survives only because the rich have private education while many far from rich families make huge sacrifices to pay privately for their children. Meanwhile, the affluent can afford buy houses in areas with good schools and parents anxious about standards can purchase private tuition".
O'Keeffe is also scathing about two of the education mantras of our age, "Special Needs" and "Best Practice":
"Special needs" were invented by the educational elite to cover up for the teaching failure by our schools by reclassifying it as a learning failure by the children. This has given them a huge additional budget and puts a block on reform by falsely legitimising the existing teaching methods".
And on "Best Practice":
"Best practice means a mix of un-streamed classes, an uncompetitive atmosphere, look-say reading, no chanting of tables, comprehensive education, the use of first names by children for speaking to teachers, history without dates or facts, the monitoring of children for "racism", "sexism", grossly one-sided hostile accounts of the British past, multiculturalism and other forms of gross self-denigration".
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