Critically evalue the aims of Vouchers Systems for Education in General From the beginning of the 1980’s, Conservative party policy was highly influenced by the virtues of the free market as advocated by a number of right-wing theorists and think-tanks. Like the rest of the public sector, education was not to escape the wrath of New Right ideological reforms that were to ensue. The principal aims of educational policy were to make the system more responsive to industry and more susceptible to market forces; the desired means of achieving the latter being increased parental choice through the introduction of a scheme of educational vouchers.
Educational vouchers emerged from the USA in the 1960’s and have been described by Arthur Seldon of the Institute of Economic Affairs as “a highly flexible instrument, with many variations, that would replace the financing of schools through taxes under political control and bureaucratic supervision by payments direct from parents thus equipped with a new ability ( for the 95% with middle or lower incomes) to compare schools and move between them” (Seldon, 1981:1). The subject of vouchers has been much debated in recent months and has, to an extent, been
implemented in the nursery and pre-school sector with expansion envisaged across the whole education arena. The basic scheme involves vouchers being given to parents who have children of school age. The vouchers, which have a monetary value of one years education, are passed on to the educational institution chosen by parents or consumers (students). Institutions return the voucher to the government and receive a monetary allocation covering the costs of education for that year. This would entitle consumers to a standard place at the institution of their choice, but those who
could afford to do so would be able to supplement the voucher and shop around for a more expensive place, perhaps in the private sector. This implies the creation of a ‘two-tier’ system with those having the ability to pay, obtaining a ‘better’ or more exclusive education. The scheme would remain under state control and encourages both state and private schools to participate. Advocates of the scheme believe that it would result in increased choice for consumers, greater competition, more accountability, responsiveness and diversity. In contrast critics argue that the scheme is inequitable, expensive and bureaucratic.
The idea of introducing vouchers into education has attracted a variety of support from free market economists such as the Adam Smith Institute as well as public choice economists including Milton Friedman, to liberal educationalists including Chris Jencks. In his book “Capitalism and Freedom”, Friedman argues that education should be provided by private schools paid for with vouchers. This would introduce the virtues of market allocation to the distribution of educational opportunity. He suggests that the role of the state should be limited to ensuring minimum standards required for a stable society.
He argued that the use of vouchers would bring competition, thus developing and improving all schools. This, in turn, would result in several advantages: “The injection of competition would do much to promote a healthy variety of schools. It would do much, also, to introduce flexibility into school systems. Not least of its benefits would be to make the salaries of school teachers responsive to market forces” (Friedman, 1962:93). Another free market economist, Adam Smith, argued that schools and colleges were protected because of continual and permanent income from government which resulted in a lack of effectiveness and responsiveness.
He believed this would be alleviated by introducing a market system, like that of vouchers, by making teachers more innovative and creative. Smith also suggested that “the state should limit support to capital expenses leaving parents to pay the schoolmasters salary if they were satisfied with his performance” (La Noue, 1972:71). Vouchers have been promoted by right-wing conservatives as a means of empowering consumers and breaking the monopoly of local education authorities. The introduction of vouchers would have a significant impact on local authority funding because at present approximately half of local government spending is absorbed by providing local education.