Free and compulsory state education is a middle class rip-off, which has damaged the poor and led to lower literacy rates than those in pre 1870 Britain said Professor James Tooley and James Stanfield, editors of Government Failure: E.G. West on Education,* a collection of research, authored by the late E.G. West which shows that government intervention in the education systems of the UK and US has been utterly destructive.
Findings show that young adults literacy was possibly at higher levels in 1870 than it is today after 13 years of full-time state education. 7-8 million people do not have basic literacy and numeracy at present. The case for state intervention in the education system is based on the presumption that, without such intervention, parents will not have the inclination or information to take the right decisions on behalf of their children.
West's research has shown that the aims of those who promoted free, compulsory, state education were clear: they wanted the government to influence the formation of the minds of the young in other words use it as a form of social engineering. With increasing state control of the curriculum and the detail of schooling in the UK, their objectives have surely been achieved with pitiful results in terms of educational outcomes. West argues that schools have turned into vehicles for social engineering.
In both the UK and the US the poor are the main losers. The main beneficiaries of free state education are the articulate middle class who can choose school by paying a premium for residency within a particular catchment area and who can influence political action in their favour.
School choice should be promoted through vouchers, argues James Tooley, Professor of Education at the University of Newcastle. The government should get out of the business of providing education and allow a range of providers not all resembling modern-day schools to accept vouchers. There should be no compulsion to attend school and supply of education should be liberalised. Standards will improve and it is the poor who will benefit the most.