Rod Liddle

The tyranny of choice

The tyranny of choice
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A fine piece by Fiona Millar in The Guardian about parents cheating the system in order to get their kids into supposedly better comprehensive schools. The key paragraph, I think, is this:

'Successive governments have preferred to present schools as a market, dressed them up as a hierarchy and then urged parents to ‘do the best for their child’ and not give a stuff about anyone else’s.'

Well, quite – but whose fault is that? Who was it that referred to “bog standard” comprehensives? Her husband, Alastair Campbell, I think it was. Instead of telling us now, couldn’t you have told him at the time? Maybe she did, maybe she did.

The mantra of consumer choice was co-opted by New Labour and applied to all sorts of perfectly unsuitable things. Children should go to their nearest comprehensive school, without right of appeal. If that school is failing then the local education authority, or the government, should take steps to ensure it no longer fails, by either sacking the headteacher, or spending more money on it. Middle class monkeys will still shift around from area to area looking for schools which they believe are “good”; but the scrapping of league tables – which, like all artificially imposed targets have become an end in themselves rather than a means – would lessen that likelihood. There should be no genuflection in the direction of local communities (ie no hijabs, no burqas, no Sikhs with knives, no chavs with earrings). They should be both literally and metaphorically uniform, offering an equal education to all kids from all backgrounds, with no risk of schools being defined as “failing”. As I say, if Ofsted and the government believe schools are failing they should do something about it, quickly.

“Choice” is still considered an untrammeled benefit to all. But there are plenty of areas where choice makes us, on the whole, less happy, and schools are one of them. Another is hospital treatment. There are certain times when the state can make our decisions for us, and when we would wish it to do so.