David Green responds to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families:
Ed Balls claims that the Tories want excellence for the few, whereas he wants excellence for everyone. Worse still, the Tories want schools to select parents, while he wants parents to select schools. And the Tories are complacent. Balls will ‘intervene and drive change in the system’ while the Tories will merely ‘stand back and hope for the best’.
Let’s take him at his word: ‘parents and pupils should choose schools not the other way round’. A policy-maker genuinely committed to parents choosing schools would carry out an honest evaluation of places where it has already been tried, such as Sweden. Instead, the Swedish system is dismissed. And, if parental choice is the genuine aim, why prevent parents from setting up their own schools or giving their backing to people who will do it for them? Balls declares that this would mean ‘new schools and surplus places springing up wherever a willing group of parents or sponsor comes forward’. Yes it would — that’s the point. But to him it’s ‘a recipe for cuts and chaos’.
The real dispute is not between good intentions and bad intentions, as Ed Balls implies. On the one hand there are people with good intentions who are practical, open, self-critical and pay attention to real outcomes. And on the other there are people like Ed Balls who claim to have good intentions but who think it’s always (conveniently) too soon to make a final judgment about whether their policies have worked. The great philosopher of the open society, Karl Popper, wrote about the importance of developing a ‘social technology’ that would allow reforms to be improved and shaped as the results emerged.