Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The case for low-cost private education in the UK

Parents are forced to pay for schools via taxation and if they opt out of that service, whether it be to homeschool or for private school, they do not receive a rebate. So schools are guaranteed an income even when their services are not valued by parents.

In particular, it is the parents who cannot afford private school fees or who cannot afford to move to neighbourhoods with higher-performing state schools who are stuck. This means that the poorest children get the worst deal out of the UK’s education system.

Introducing a low-cost private model is an opportunity to combine a ‘no frills’ approach to spending with the highly-academic, knowledge-rich curriculum and no-nonsense discipline currently accessible only to those pupils fortunate enough to be able to attend the best schools.

Research shows us that there is a demand for something like this model, why the model works, and examples of successes when looking to Professor James Tooley’s trials abroad. This option, to enrol in low-cost private secondary education, could challenge the state’s monopoly on education and drastically improve parental choice in the UK.


Is performing arts education worthwhile?

The UK has long enjoyed a global reputation as a centre for excellence in the performing arts, both as an exporter of talent and a destination of choice for lovers of culture. We gain a lot emotionally from the industry, which boosts our mental and physical health. But performing arts are also part of the fastest-growing sector of the economy, the creative arts, which contributed more than £100bn in 2017. Despite all this, the performing arts in the UK are facing an existential threat.

The decline of formal performing arts education in schools and the impact of the Ebacc have been well documented. In 2017, the number of entries for GCSE drama declined by 8.5%, while A-level entries for dance fell by 42%, drama by 33% and music by 38% between 2010 and 2018. A BBC survey in January 2018 showed nine out of 10 secondary schools had cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative arts subject. Meanwhile, cuts to local authorities have further decimated opportunities for young people to participate in the performing arts.

These cuts feel shortsighted when creative jobs are thought to be some of the least vulnerable to automation. In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, historian Yuval Noah Harari notes that many pedagogical experts argue that schools should switch to teaching “the four Cs — critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity” – to prepare the children of today for the workforce of tomorrow. All four skills are hallmarks of a performing arts education.

Meanwhile, universities are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the government’s review of post-18 education funding. Two of the rumours around its recommendations could hugely damage performing arts courses. If headline tuition fees are cut without government funding to make up the shortfall, universities may struggle to fund high-cost, studio-based education and training. Equally, minimum A-level grade requirements might exclude many prospective students considering a vocational career in the performing arts, including those who start their higher education journey at 16.

My institution, the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama, is one of a number of world-leading specialists which focuses on dance, drama, circus arts, or music within higher education. In addition to the challenges mentioned, we also face a further threat from possible withdrawal of specialist support funding, known as ISTA (institution-specific targeted allocation). ISTA supports world-leading conservatoires in meeting the additional costs essential to deliver training of an intensity and standard which prepares our students to enter their profession at the highest level.

The benefits of this education are shown in the success of our students, including internationally renowned artists such as actor and Oscar winner Olivia Colman and choreographer Sir Richard Alston.

Performing arts education – along with low-paid but essential professions such as nursing, teaching and caring – has been repeatedly undermined by the government’s reductive narrative that equates a degree’s value with its graduates’ earnings. A recent Institute for Fiscal Studies report said that creative arts degrees will cost taxpayers 30% more than engineering degrees because of the lower salaries its graduates will secure, making them less likely to pay off their loans in full. It seems that the rhetoric of student as consumer leads us to the idea of graduate as product.

The returns on investment in performing arts are significant, but the strength of any country and its people is about far more than the financial wealth it generates. We must challenge the dangerous narrative that equates success with the level of a graduate’s income and which reduces education to a financial transaction. If we don’t, we risk losing the next generation of artists and all that they contribute to our wellbeing and society.


Sanders Reveals Plan To End Funding for Charter Schools, Cites ‘Educational Segregation’

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Saturday released his plan for reforming public education, including halting federal funding of new charter schools and banning those that are for-profit.

Saying charter schools are “exacerbating educational segregation,” Sanders called for increased transparency and accountability, as well as limits on the pay of their chief executives.

According to the campaign, the 10-point plan focuses on “reversing racial and economic segregation that is plaguing elementary and secondary schools.”

The current education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is an advocate for charter schools, which receive public funding but operate independently.

Sanders unveiled the plan Saturday ahead of a speech in South Carolina. The campaign said the release of Sanders’ Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education and Educators was timed to the 65th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

As head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Marshall served as chief attorney for the plaintiffs, more than a decade before becoming the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice.

The senator from Vermont is proposing “large new investments in programs that serve high-poverty communities, support special needs students, and augment local efforts to integrate school districts.”

That also includes a minimum on per-pupil spending in all school districts across the country, as well as a universal school meal plan and a goal of closing “the gap in school infrastructure funding to renovate, modernize, and green the nation’s schools.”

Sanders’ plan also proposes investment to raise starting teacher salaries to at least $60,000, as well as grants and tax credits to help teachers defray the cost of school supplies.

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This is Sanders’ first major plan of this campaign for K-12 education reforms. Dating back to his 2016 run for president, Sanders has repeatedly addressed reforms in higher education, including making four-year college free.

Some of the other nearly two-dozen candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination have come out with their own plans for elementary and higher education. Earlier this year, Sen. Kamala Harris of California made her first campaign policy rollout a federal investment in teacher pay.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has proposed alleviating almost all college debt for 42 million Americans, proposing an “ultra-millionaire” tax to fund the $640 billion cost.

Earlier this week, Warren said her secretary of education “will be a former public school teacher who is committed to public education.”


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