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The Government’s Education Select Committee is toying with a new idea to improve school education. Performance-related pay is to be considered, with a proposal that poorer teachers be paid less. In doing so they are falling into the socialist trap of imposing market-style discipline on a state-controlled activity, a process that often manages to combine the worst vices of both.
The intention is clear: to employ similar methods as the private sector in rewarding those who excel. However, it ignores the fact that pay differentials are often not artificially created but are an emergent property of a dynamic system of the type found in free markets. Those who succeed most do so by serving the greatest number that are willing to voluntarily pay them.
Tesco and Sainsbury’s are gigantic because they sell vast numbers of products every day to almost every section of society; bespoke shoe-makers do not, and their rewards are meagre in comparison. The variability of rewards we often see in private enterprises tend to develop naturally through interaction in the marketplace – they are not imposed by the producers themselves.
This free market approach has a key component that is absent from the system the Education Select Committee embraces; namely choice. Consumers in a free system create pay differentials as a by-product of their choices. As they choose some suppliers over others those they select flourish and expand. This is not the point of their behaviour but simply a side effect and a reflection of the underlying success of the enterprise in satisfying customer needs.
By trying to hijack this effect the government is taking our focus off the real issue. Education, like everything else produced by human beings, exists within a market framework. We pay for education services for the simple reason teachers do not work for free, but their ability to be paid in the current state system is not affected by their ability to serve the consumers of their services.
Therefore, education in the UK is not a market-driven process but a state-controlled one. To seek the benefits of a market system without any actual market interaction, and with little real choice, is an idea embedded in a bureaucracy concerned with public relations and not a panacea for combating poor performance.
It seems to have escaped the attention of the government that the existence of a committee in place of the paying public is itself part of the problem. It is based on the idea that education services ought to be exempt from the competitive forces that help shape efficient services and promote the best. The desire to embrace an egalitarian agenda forces them to avoid this natural mechanism and suggest increasingly desperate measures to compensate for the lack of direct choices exercised by those who make use of the service – the parents of the children. It is not difficult to imagine how poor Tesco and Sainsbury’s services would become if they had to interpret our wishes via a government intermediary.
The reality is the system suits those who already operate within it: the state, the teaching unions and subsidised charities. All of them would be threatened by a system of open competition that would march to the tune of consumers of educational services.
Every socialist state that has embraced ‘enlightened’ views on education that shun competitive forces only succeeded in creating second-rate systems characterised by labyrinthine bureaucracies that had to invent ever more elaborate mechanisms to artificially mimic elements of choice-based systems.
Pretending that the natural benefits of choice can be outsourced to a handful of politicians and bureaucrats is to paint a thin veneer of private sectorism on a thoroughly public sector industry; one completely embedded within an intellectual framework that will happily drive education into the ground to prove that it is superior to the selfishness of the private sector.
No one seems to ask the obvious question – if the private sector can manage salaries so well that it is worth mimicking then why not privatise schooling? By ignoring competition and the willingness of private suppliers to meet demand in the most efficient way possible then we must pay the price; the greatest of which is an invented role for the state in the delivery of services that ought not to need committees.
- The Freedom Association’s Magna Carta Pimms and Politics Cruise on June 15, 2013 12:30 pm
- Conservative Renewal Conference on September 14, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on September 30, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on October 1, 2013
- Christmas Lunch in the Cotswolds on December 7, 2013 12:30 pm
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