Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Merry Christmas to everyone from the EG West Centre team.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Cameron has a cunning plan as PM - a punch up over schools

A good column yesterday by Matthew D'Ancona stating that Michael Gove is planning to set up a new network of independent state schools modelled on the Swedish system as well as to make available for parents, students, commentators, et al an online archive of exam papers so that we can all make up our minds whether exams have got 'easier' or they are just 'different'.

It is a very good "Comment" article and well worth a look. I do like this section:

"Every August, we go through the annual ritual of hailing the "record results" that have been achieved in the GCSEs and A-levels: everyone involved - including in my experience, the teenagers themselves - knows that the questions are getting easier, which is why candidates are forced to take absurd numbers of exams in order to distinguish themselves from their peers.... any critique of the exam system is somehow a malicious and brutal attacked upon our teenagers at precisely the moment that we should be celebrating their achievements. Of course, it is no such thing"

Michael Gove has gone on YouTube so that might be worth a search. But exciting times could be ahead, if the Conservatives start telling the truth and stop trying to pull the wool over every one's eyes.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Swedish Model - A Lesson in School Choice

A recent 30 minute video titled The Swedish Model - A Lesson in School Choice has recently appeared on the Teachers TV website and provides a useful introduction to the Swedish model of school choice. In particular, some interviews are carried out in Nacka Municipality, whose system of school choice is definately worth examining further. More details can be found at Customer Choice Systems in Nacka Municipality

400 girls get a pass to a brighter future

Great work is being done by our friends at the Center for Civil Society, who are issuing vouchers following on from the scholarship voucher idea we carried out in Hyderabad with the Educare Trust. This was reported in the Hindustan Times on the 22nd July:

"Clutching her School Voucher Certificate, seven year-old Taiyeba Rahman, a resident of Chauhar Bangar, east Delhi, was all smiles on Wednesday. She did not understand what the certificate meant, but sensing her father Atiq Rahman’s happiness, she knew it was something great.
“My father has told me I will go to a big school with swings now,” said Taiyeba.
Taiyeba is one of the 400 recipients of the NGO, Center for Civil Society’s School Voucher for Girls Programme (SVGP) in seven colonies of North Delhi, comprising of Welcome Colony, Chauhar Bangar, Zaffrabad, New Usmanpur, Maujpur, Janta Colony and Babarpur.
Under this initiative, families of 400 female students studying in 2nd grade in MCD schools will receive a School Voucher Certificate worth Rs 4, 000 per annum for four years, which they can use to admit their wards to one of the 40 empanelled private schools located in north-east Delhi schools working with CCS.
The voucher would also cover the school fees, cost of books and uniforms.
“It is no secret that MCD schools impart low-quality education,” said Baladevan Rangaraju, programme director.
“We want to start a campaign in which students be given a voucher by the government that can be given to whichever school—government or private a student wants to go to,” said Rangaraju.
“So, to showcase that a student of a government school who is shifted to a private school achieves higher academic standards, we started the pilot project, SVGP.”
The 40 private schools for which these students have been given a voucher have agreed to admit the MCD students on compassionate grounds, though they also benefit.
“Under such a tie-up, we are also assured the yearly tuition on time,” said Dinesh Jain, principal of Alka Public School.
To start with, the programme has selected mostly female students of Muslim or socially disadvantaged backgrounds.
“We chose the groups that have the lowest school enrollment,” said Ranjaraju.
“Moreover, all children we chose were students in the second grade of MCD schools because we wanted to make sure those who benefited could not afford private schools.”

Monday, 27 July 2009

The profit motive in education

Yesterdays Sunday Times included an article titled 'State schools may be run for profit' which suggests that the Conservative Party is now considering if for-profit private companies should be allowed to manage state schools. However, for many this question is irrelevant. Instead, what matters is what works. If local School A outperforms local School B at a fraction of the cost then parents are likley to choose School A. A parent is unlikley to reverse this decsion simply because they find out that School A is run by a for-profit company and School B is run by a non-profit charity. Again, what matters is what works and in education as in all other sectors of the economy for-profit organisations nearly always outperform their non-profit counterparts.

Writing in 1949, Henry Hazlitt suggested that ‘[t]he indignation shown by many people today at the mention of the very word profits indicates how little understanding there is of the vital function that profits play in our economy’. Thankfully, over half a century later there is now much more understanding about the importance of the profit motive in our daily lives – except of course in education. In fact, even attempting to relate education to money is still viewed by some with deep suspicion. As such, Hazlitt’s brief description of the function of profits is perhaps worth revisiting.

Firstly, according to Hazlitt the prospect of profits helps to decide what will be produced and in what quantities, and if there is no profit in producing a product or service, it is a sign that the labour and capital devoted to its production are misdirected: the value of the resources that must be used up in providing a product or service is greater than the value of the product or service. Secondly, the profit motive also helps to put constant and unremitting pressure on business managers to improve and innovate. For-profit organisations don’t have to be told to improve or innovate. Instead they have an inbuilt incentive to do so automatically. Hazlitt also challenges a common misconception which claims that profits can be increased simply by raising prices. Instead, it is by introducing economies and efficiencies that cut costs of production that helps to generate profits. Therefore, it will be those who have achieved the lowest costs of production that generate the highest profits. In short, ‘profits not only tell us which goods it is most economical to make, but which are the most economical ways to make them’.

Ludwig von Mises has also helped to explain why businessmen and big business are not irresponsible tyrants, as many still claim them to be, because it is ‘the necessity of making profits and avoiding losses that gives to the consumers a firm hold over the entrepreneurs and forces them to comply with the wishes of the people’. As a result there is no problem when a businessman attempts to enrich himself by increasing his profits, because large profits are simply proof of supplying customers with what they want, while losses are the proof of blunders committed. As Mises concludes, ‘[t]he riches of successful entrepreneurs is not the cause of anybody’s poverty; it is the consequence of the fact that the consumers are better supplied than they would have been in the absence of the entrepreneur’s effort’.

From the above comments, it is clear that the profit motive plays an important role both within individual organisations and in the economy as a whole. They also suggest that while there has been much debate about the ethics of the profit motive itself, less attention has perhaps been given to the actual process of calculating profit and loss and how this influences how organisations operate and perform. For example, it is clear that if an organisation is driven by profits, then there appears to be an inbuilt incentive to record and monitor all costs. This is because if costs and revenues cannot be compared, then the calculation of profit becomes impossible. The ongoing calculation of profit and loss also provides an organisation with a continual flow of information about the quality of its products and services and if they are succeeding in meeting customer needs and expectations. The calculation of profit and loss therefore provides an essential link between what the customers want and what the organisation produces. Eureka! Could the profit motive prove to be the missing link in education? In their 2003 publication Education and Capitalism, Walberg and Bast suggest that unless popular myths about capitalism are challenged, school reform in the USA will stall well short of success. I agree.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

“Unscrupulous parents for wanting choice”

Earlier in my blog I told the story of Mrs Patel who wanted to get her son into a good school. At the time she was living with her mother and put down her mother’s address, which was in the catchment area for the ‘good’ school in Harrow where Mr Patel wanted her child to attend. Mrs Patel moved back to her husband after 4 weeks, only 2 miles down the road from Pinner school. However too far away for little son to be able to attend. Therefore Harrow council were to take Mrs Patel to court for trying to ‘cheat’ in their view to get the school of her choice. The case has been dropped as it was not clear whether this was a case of fraud.

Now Ed Balls has asked for a review to take place to see just how many ‘unscrupulous’ parents there are, who are trying to ‘cheat’ the system. I was appalled by the word ‘unscrupulous’. I looked it up – devious, ruthless – were just a couple of the words I came up with. Well, the problem is not with parents, who want a choice and the best school for their child, but the system. Because there isn’t the choice. Mrs Patel has grasped what has to be done. She chose to send her child to a private school. However, why hasn’t the money that she is saving the state school system now being transferred to the private sector to follow her son? This is very upsetting to me. If I wanted my child to attend the best school in the area then maybe I would be ruthless and fight tooth and nail for his or her place.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Chains of for-profit branded schools are the future

In an article in the Calgary Herald (Canada), Peter Cowley (Fraser Institute) imagines what schools might look like in the future and suggests that the concept of chains of for-profit branded schools provides an exciting alternative to the existing government monopoly. Cowley therefore concludes that "If the government of Alberta wishes to provide the best possible education to all of its young citizens, it would do well to ensure that its education policies encourage the kind of productive competition that branded, for-profit, school chains will encourage".
I think there can be no doubt that at some point in the near future, chains of branded for-profit schools will slowly start to dominate education sectors around th world, with both national and international brand names emerging. Governments are therefore faced with a number of choices. First, they can completely ignore and refuse to accept that such developments are taking place. Second, they can acknowledge these developments and do nothing. Third, they can acknowledge these developments but do everything in their power to stop them. Fourth, they can acknowledge these developments and look for ways of positively encouraging them, with tax breaks and other incentives. What governments can do to positively encourage private investment in education is still a relatively untouched area of research and will need much more attention in the future.