Merryn's Blog

Parents should have a real choice of school for their children

Why not give parents ‘education vouchers’ and let them send their children to whatever school they please, asks Merryn Somerset Webb.

If you have a child in the UK between three years old and school age, the state pays for them to have up to 15 hours of nursery care a week for up to 38 weeks a year.

This is good for parents (a nice break for those who don't work, and a small respite from childcare costs for those who do), but the most interesting thing about it is the way the funding works. You can send your child to any nursery you like, state or private, and still get the funding. Go state and you need pay no extra; go private and there is generally a top up.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

This works brilliantly. Parents generally get to choose the nursery they like, and can top up hours or move the children with their funding attached as they like.

So here's the question: if we are prepared to give parents choice and funding for pre-school education, why is there no political impetus at all for doing it at primary and secondary level?

Advertisement - Article continues below

Giving parents access to their child's share of the educational budget via a virtual voucher' of some kind (as in Sweden) and allowing them to place their children where they like would open independent-standard education to scores more people: the average state-funding per pupil is around £5,200, the cost of a year at the excellent Heriots in Edinburgh is around £8,000.

It would force rubbish schools across the spectrum to either raise their game or close. And it might help raise standards everywhere to the extent that a mere ten (independent) schools no longer account for 12% of the UK's elite.

As Douglas Carswell MP wrote his this week "If state officials are unable to provide parents with a school place that they are happy to accept, why not let folk take their money and give it to a school that can?"

There is school of thought that thinks this will be no more than a subsidy for the rich vouchers they can take to existing private schools just get their kids the same education at less cost. But this is to miss the point.

It might be nice for the well off to have to pay less out of their taxed income for their school fees. But first, note that it is taxed income. And second, rather than getting bogged down in the usual class warfare that any discussion of education in the UK seems to bring on, we should all recognise that the main point here is not to penalise those who can already afford a good education for their children, but to try and make sure that everyone gets a good education whatever their parents' income level.

Advertisement - Article continues below

After all, if we were all happy with the standard of the state schools our children get to go to, the independent sector would barely exist in the first place. You can read more on the benefits of choice and vouchers here and here.




How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019

Beyond the Brexit talk, the British economy isn’t doing too badly

The political Brexit pantomime aside, Britain is in pretty good shape. With near-record employment, strong wage growth and modest inflation, there is …
17 Oct 2019
House prices

UK house prices may be heading for a Boris bounce

The latest survey of estate agents and surveyors from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is "unambiguously positive" – suggesting house pric…
16 Jan 2020

Are UK house prices really on the rebound?

The latest house price data from the Office for National Statistics paint a picture of a housing market that is showing signs of rallying. That's not …
15 Jan 2020

Most Popular


Currency Corner: how high can the pound go against the euro in 2020?

In the month in which we should finally leave the European Union, Dominic Frisby takes a look at the pound vs the euro and asks just how high sterling…
13 Jan 2020

Where will markets be in 2030? Here are 20 forecasts for the 2020s

A lot has changed in the last ten years – stockmarkets soared, technology transformed our lives and politics has changed beyond measure. Here, Dominic…
14 Jan 2020
Personal finance

How much the state pension will rise by this year

While Boris Johnson promised to hold a full budget within 100 days of his election victory, many of the details of next year’s state pension increases…
10 Jan 2020

Money Minute Wednesday 15 January: UK inflation and house prices

In today’s Money Minute, we look ahead to the latest UK inflation and house price figures, plus we have Germany’s GDP data for 2019.
15 Jan 2020