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June 20, 2014



Isn't there somewhere that allocates college places to the top pupils in each school? So the "sink" school gets as many places as Oakham. A US state? Texas? Maybe I'm remembering wrong.

Does that do something to deal with the problem?

Maybe it just means parents hire tutors, but I'd be interested to know if this does actually happen anywhere, and what the outcome is.

Peter Briffa

There is also a fourth way of reacting: privatise state schools.


The other important point is that what you are buying with private education is not just better resources and facilities, but status and connections. Those command a pretty high market premium, which will remain even if quality was equalised.


Why does every one of your blogs suggest taking more of my money?

Sucker for Sushi

A big reason parents send their kids to expensive schools is because it is a substantial status display.

Yet another Chris

I went to private school, albeit some 50 years ago. If private schools had been banned, my father would have shipped me abroad. That's what would happen now if Alan Bennett got his way. He will not, of course, because most MPs send their kids to private school.

Oh and Stuart makes a very good point. Socialism always seems to come down to spending more of my money. Just look at where that gets you - France, a living experiment on screwing people.

I've recently started contracting some work to a French guy. Why has he moved here? Tax. He probably earns about £75K, judging by his fees. Hardly rich, but in France he is in the firing line for 'redistribution', so he has moved here with his family.


@ Peter - I'm not wholly hostile to that view, but I don't see how it'll close all the quality gap.
@ Sucker for Sushi - that's part of the story, but not all; private schoolkids go on to earn more than state school ones.
@ Luke - you're thinking of the Texas 10% rule:
I think it's a good idea; the fact Laobur hasn't proposed it shows that the party is to the right of Texans
@ Gentlemen - unlike many lefties, I don't want a higher overall tax burden - just higher taxes on the rich.

David Friedman

Your comparison is to the very top private schools, in both expenditure and facilities. I'm in the U.S. so don't know much about the English situation (although I did spend a year a very long time ago in the third form of Perse school in Cambridge). In the U.S. private schools on average spend less than government (our "public") schools, and produce a sufficiently high quality so that a significant number of parents are willing to pay for them instead of using the free public schools. In other industries, government run firms are not notable for efficiency or innovation, so one might expect the same thing in the schooling industry.

All of which suggests that one alternative you might consider is an educational voucher for the per capita expenditure of your government run schools, making them compete on even terms with privately run schools.

That would both introduce competition into schooling and smooth out some of the current abrupt break between free schools and expensive schools. A parent has to be pretty well off to be willing to spend the whole cost of a good private school, but not so much to be willing to spend the difference between a government school and a somewhat more expensive private school.

Dave Timoney

The solution is surely a variation on the Texas Rule: oblige the Russell Group to take students on a pro-rata basis across all schools / 6th form colleges - i.e. each school has a guaranteed number of places (approx 10) that are available to the highest achieving pupils.

This would incentivise the rich to maximise their child's chances of selection by evenly colonising state schools. Congregating in public schools would be counter-productive if you wish to go on to study Law at Oxford or Medicine at Imperial.

While some will wish to preserve the public schools for reasons of sentiment, those that don't close/convert would quickly revert to their ancient, pre-Arnoldian function of servicing the dim offspring of the rich, who will continue to progress to the study of Art History at St Andrews.


"I don't want a higher overall tax burden - just higher taxes on the rich."

Define rich.


I'm not sure whether private schools are educationally better than state ones, but I don't find it that implausible that thousands of people would pay for them even if they weren't. A status display, networking (for the parents and the children), and a highly selective social group are all things that parents might pay for, as are extra-curricular features (pretty buildings and good sports facilities) that might have limited impact on the core education. Not to mention that thousands of people could just be wrong and believe that private schools are much better - if they read the Telegraph, say, they'd certainly be exposed to that view a lot. The network-building could go some way to explaining the earnings gap, as could giving the children more confidence that they deserve to be paid more - after all, they're privately educated, they're special - which we know leads to higher pay.

Again, I'm not saying they're definitely not better than state schools, I don't have the data for that. I just don't think the facts that people pay for them, and that people go on to earn more, necessarily prove it.

Bill Posters

One thing top flight private schools do is ease out those kids who are not performing. Telling the parents that the kid is just not fitting in or might be better off somewhere else. This is after the kid has had to pass some test to get in. It's easy to have a high performing education system if you have 100% control on the intake and you can weed out the weak as you go along.



"Define rich."

If you're worried about higher taxes for the rich, you. If you're not, not you. Easy.

Chris, thanks for the link re Texas.

Socialism in One Bedroom

All studies have shown that state pupils outperform privately education pupils at university. This chimes with me. There should be more, far more, positive discrimination in favour of state school pupils re university entry. The private sector delivers a lot of dross to universities, so much for weeding out the weak!

Rich is easy to define if you are talking about someone who earns more in a week than the national yearly average wage, that is certainly rich. You are certainly rich if you are one of the top 5% who owns more than half the people on the planet, this is certainly rich, easy to define as rich. the problem comes as you move away from these examples and move closer to the average, when does rich stop and not being rich begin?

But yes, tax the rich!

Churm Rincewind

I'm a bit lost here. If we dismiss the findings of the PISA report and instead accept the findings of the report "The Changing Economic Advantage from Private School" (op cit) that "the private school sector has been successful in transforming its ability to generate the academic outputs that are most in demand in the modern economy", then this would be proof that the right "training" was consistently advantageous to the recipients - an idea which was severely criticised as mere managerialism on this blog only a few days ago.

Me, I'm with PISA.


"If you're worried about higher taxes for the rich, you. If you're not, not you. Easy."

I'm not worried about whether I'm rich or not (I would definitely in the firing line for higher taxes on 'the rich') the point I was trying to make is depending on where you draw the line, you either don't raise much more money, or lots of people who aren't that rich get drawn into higher taxation.

If the plan is to make 'ordinary people' pay less taxes, and raise more revenue from 'the rich' then the dividing line is crucial. Is a 40% taxpayer rich? You are in the top 15% I think, if you pay 40% on your income. Should they pay more? Or should only the top rate rise? If so I doubt you'd raise much more money - putting the top rate up to 75% (say) would undoubtedly result in lower tax revenue from high earners.

We are about at the point where higher taxes at the higher end will not result in much more revenue, certainly not enough to allow lower earners to pay significantly less in tax. Its a fallacy to pretend that there is some massive pot of gold out there that if only it can be taxed more will solve our problems.

Socialism In One Bedroom

"Its a fallacy to pretend that there is some massive pot of gold out there that if only it can be taxed more will solve our problems."

It isn't just that the rich have decade after decade seen their tax burden reduce, it is that to fill the gap governments have to now borrow from these rich people and pay back interest. A double Whammy!

Anyway you obviously don't read Oxfam reports re income inequality. I imply in the above that you believe the massive wealth of the rich is not really material in the grand scheme of things. Well let us take it off them and if they don't moan too much we can be confident you are correct!

I would also point out that study after study has shown more equal societies result in better economic outcomes. The least we can say is that high taxes do not harm economic progress, as those that top the standard of living indexes, such as Norway or Denmark, top the tax rates also.


@Socialism in one bedroom: come back to me when you've worked out the difference between wealth (a stock) and income (a flow).

Socialism In One Bedroom

So you were talking about wealth or income?

Your comment would suggest you believe you were talking about income, as you came up with the laughable notion that we are now at the point where higher taxes at the higher end will not result in much more revenue, when in fact we have historically low tax rates and the nations that have higher tax rates have rather better social outcomes.

It isn't all about increasing the revenue but using the 'pot of gold' to re-prioritise. And when you talk about re-prioritising labour from, say, luxury goods to social provision, such as care for the elderly, then we are talking about wealth. So taxes can move wealth from rich to poor.

The difference between wealth and income isn't what we should be talking about but how the 2 are related. When you have worked that out you may understand why your comment about the fallacy of the pot of gold doesn't really stand up.

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