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Coalition's school reforms will have "little impact" on standards, new book argues

The coalition's education reforms will have "little quantifiable impact" on the quality of England's schools because they don't go far enough, a new book has argued.
'Incentivising excellence: school choice and education quality', written by researcher Gabriel Sahlgren, calls on the government to take more radical steps to give schools more autonomy, increase competition, and allow for-profit providers into the market.
The book was published this week by the Centre for Market Reform in Education.
The pro-market think tank’s director James Croft was critical of the British government’s record of school reform, arguing that its policies to date had been "hampered by a combination of insufficient autonomy for schools to experiment and differentiate themselves from the competition; inadequate incentives for schools to expand and replicate their successes; and constraints on parents’ ability to make informed choices about which school is right for their child". 
Launching the book this week, Sahlgren said that school choice should improve standards in three ways: by allowing better matching between pupil and school; creating incentives to innovate; and driving schools to compete against one another.
In England, though, school choice has yet to have any significant impact, because it remains difficult both to set up new schools and to close existing poorly performing ones. 
The lack of information on school quality is also a factor, Sahlgren said, pointing to the fact that "league tables measure pupil ability, not school performance". 
The book lays out a number of proposals to address these problems. These include:
A universal voucher system, covering private as well as state schools. This would differentiate funding by pupil's wealth and ability, to prevent ‘cream skimming’;
A less regulated free school programme, in which applicants need only to meet basic standards, and private providers can run schools for a profit. State capital funding would be provided only in "exceptional circumstances";
Performance-related funding, to reward successful schools, and a willingness to close failing ones;
Improvements in metrics measuring school quality, taking pupil background and ability into account. Such information could be collected and published by the private sector.
An expansion of online learning, to provide a cheaper route to creating new school places.
CMRE is a new education research and policy unit, which describes its purpose as "exploring the benefits of more diverse, competitive and entrepreneurial provision in the education sector, and the feasibility of market-led solutions to public policy issues".

Posted on: 12/04/2013

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