Private peril or pragmatic solution?

20th July 2001 at 01:00
Caroline St John-Brooks asserts that "the private sector has little to offer in the further improvement of education, except in very specific circumstances" (TES, June 29). I suspect she really means something quite different. Is she wholly opposed to, say:

* The pound;256 million of local education authority funds last year that went on places at independent schools for children with special needs

* Parents who decide to educate their children at home

* Initiatives such as the West London Sikh School to set up specialist small schools

* Supplementary schools operated by ethnic-minority and faith-based groups

* The system in other countries that encourages parents to seek education for their children in private schools funded by the state

All of these are examples of education provided by the private sector but it seems likely that Dr St John-Brooks's definition of the private sector extended no further than large, commercial companies which she fears might replace public-sector monopoly providers.

The real issue is not private versus public but monopoly versus diversity. It is difficult, though not entirely impossible to stimulate competition and enterprise within the public sector.

That is why Kings' College Guildford, which Dr St John-Brooks includes in her "very specific circumstances" category, depends on talented educationists operating within the private sector. Why not encourage thousands of others to do the same?

Present government policy should encourage a market in education services that is all-embracing and not just driven by the need to intervene in circumstances of school failure.

Neil McIntosh Chief executive CfBT 1 The Chambers, Reading

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