Most pe ople assume that the state must be involved in education. It is the obvious universal provider, they think. They regard the state as a guarantor that the poorest will not miss out. On the contrary, state education has made low educational achievement for the poor all the more certain. As many as 14 per cent of Britons have passed no exams. Those the system has failed are concentrated among the poor. As Diane Abbott reported, only 9 per cent of black boys in Hackney get five decent GCSEs.
According to the Government, one fifth of adults in Britain are functionally illiterate. Repeated testing by Durham University has shown that levels in a range of subjects have continued to fall. The state has failed as an educator.
Throughout the history of state education, there has always been the hope that the next reform would actually work. Under Keith Joseph , the supposed key to improvement was management consultancy. Under Tony Crosland, abolition of grammar schools was going to make everything fine. David Blunkett expected to restore standards with the literacy hour. But the decline has never been reversed. The problem with state education is systemic. It should be replaced with something else.
My suggestion is private education for all. The Pisa report from the OECD showed that British private schools had the highest educational achievement of any kind of school system in the world. Even after adjustment for the higher average wealth and educational level of private school parents, British private schools strongly out-performed state schools. World Bank studies in various countries have also repeatedly shown that private schooling beats state schooling.
How could it be made available to all?
All state schools could be returned to the charity sector or sold. Big-name charities such as Save the Children and churches could bid for them. New charities could be set up to run them. Existing private schools should be encouraged to bid.
It would be vital that local authorities and regulators should be kept out of the way. Many local authorities are so statist that they have obstructed new schools outside the state system. Ofsted should be abolished along with the Department for Education and Skills. Regulations and inspections add to costs. Regulation would be by parents who would pick the best schools.
Fees would be highly variable, for sure. They already are strongly polarised, with some charging less than the cost of a place at a state school. The Tabernacle School in North Kensington, London, for example, charges a maximum of pound;3,300 a year.
Poor people would be subsidised by benefactors and richer parents - as happened before the state's takeover. But income tax would be much lower - without the state bearing the cost of education - so parents would have more money available.
With private education for all, teachers would regain some respect from parents and children and heads would be free to run their schools instead of being buried in instructions from bureaucrats.
It would not be perfect. There would be inequalities. But poor people would get more of a chance than they do now.
James Bartholomew is the author of 'The Welfare State We're In' , Politico's, pound;18.99