Systems for Education

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Therefore, if vouchers were to be introduced, local authorities would lose a major function and would experience a significant decline in revenue. Local authorities would be by-passed with money paid to schools by parents rather than the traditional method of LEA funding. In addition, democratic control would be eroded. Anderson, in Brighouse, argues that “vouchers improperly take the governance of educational institutions out of the scope of democratic deliberation and into a private sphere governed by market norms” (Anderson,1994:216).

In December 1974, the Friends of the Education Voucher Experiment in Representative Regions (FEVER) gave backing to a system of education vouchers. This was followed by an enthusiasm by Dr. Rhodes Boyson (now Sir Rhodes Boyson) who was a former headteacher and now Conservative MP, to introduce “the developing case for the voucher”, which represented one of the contributions to Black Paper1975:The Fight for Education. In this, Boyson suggested that “the possibilities for parental choice of secondary (and primary) schools should be improved via the introduction of the educational voucher or some other method.

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Schools that few wish to attend should be closed and their staff dispersed” (Cox and Boyson, 1977:9). Boyson envisaged the introduction of a “non-transferable voucher which could be issued for each pupil and the parents would be able to pay it into the school of his choice, either state or private…. Popular schools in the areas would continue and expand, and unpopular schools would decline and close” (Boyson, 1975:27). He believed the introduction of vouchers would have benefits for all concerned. It has been claimed that vouchers will bring choice and competition.

Voucher advocates believe that they give parents the opportunity to make choices on educational rather than financial grounds. They also believe the introduction of vouchers will achieve two objectives. Firstly, if parents are encouraged to use their own money to purchase a school place then investment in education will increase without an extra burden on public finances. Secondly, private finance will mean parents and students will have greater freedom of choice with control over education transferring from the state to purchasers. McLeod and Varley argue that in Higher Education “it is up to students to choose the courses they want.

Universities should be consumer-led. They should be competing for students by offering choice, not dictating to them where to go” (McLeod and Varley, 1996:3). However, Anderson notes that as market mechanisms, vouchers give parents choice only by enabling them to ‘exit’ the system and not through the power of voice about the way schools are run. She believes that instead of relying on a free market, schools should be governed by democratic means. By introducing competition into the education system it is argued that schools will become more susceptible to consumer demands. Advocates of the vouchers agree that the current education system lacks a direct link between consumers and providers; they argue vouchers would bring in such a link.

This development would make providers more responsive to both parents and students preferences as well as increasing the diversity of courses of study on offer. Industry would also benefit from institutions having to be more responsive as consumers will choose courses relevant for future careers. This will provide industry with what it requires rather than what the government thinks it ought to have.

There would also be a greater deal of direct participation from consumers, parents and industry in educational activity. It is argued that vouchers will encourage institutions to make more effective use of their resources. Institutions which wasted resources risk bankruptcy, therefore, they would need to ensure that teaching methods and uses of equipment were efficient. Teachers would find that their traditional ‘security of tenure’ would be eroded as institutions would not be able to sustain inactive and incompetent staff. Consumers would be able to vote with their feet and move to a more responsive and efficient institution if the present one failed to meet expectations.

In this sense, vouchers can be identified with aspects of public choice theory in that only the leanest institutions would survive. In addition, supporters of vouchers argue that they will lead to more cost-effective and accountable institutions. Vouchers, it is claimed, would also lead to improved educational achievement and would raise standards as “the need to define objectives and measure educational effectiveness in order to provide parents with information necessary for decision-making would improve or, at worst, stabilise the level of achievement” (Maynard, 1975:47).

La Noue suggests that vouchers may result in more equality as children from families with low incomes would be given access to better opportunities and that vouchers would enable children with special needs to be catered for more effectively. Supporters also argue that vouchers will create new places as they may lead to an increase in the resources allocated to education. In one example, a playgroup in Norfolk had taken on additional staff and provided additional sessions because of the funds that vouchers had brought. However, critics are sceptical. They argue that vouchers merely represent a shift in resources and that claims of increased resources are exaggerated.

Critics also claim that vouchers are detrimental for a number of reasons. They believe it is difficult to calculate the average cost of a years education with specific geographical areas having variances in amounts. This has resulted in reports that vouchers do not cover the whole cost of education and that the number of places available could fall as those institutions unable to compete could risk closure. Popular institutions may find themselves over-subscribed and be forced to expand.

However, expansion may risk changing the character and ethos of the institution that made it popular in the first place. Popular institutions may also decide to levy additional charges which would have an effect on consumer choice. Equity objections on the basis that pupils and students from richer families could get a better education while the less wealthy are at a disadvantage also prevail. Institutions may also preference along social class lines. Wealthier parents are likely to be better educated themselves and therefore make more effective consumers.


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