Social context of vouchers

26th March 2010 at 00:00

Before Scotland launches into a voucher-driven dismantling of the state education sector, it might be worth reflecting upon the social context within which the vaunted Swedish model operates.

Despite recent neo-liberal changes, Sweden remains a strong welfare state in the Nordic tradition, has high levels of equality and social mobility, and its child poverty rate is around 2 per cent. With such a firm foundation of equity, the voucher system in Sweden represents a relatively low risk.

In a country such as Scotland, with social inequality a significant factor, social mobility decreasing, child poverty running at 34 per cent in its biggest city and more than 20 per cent nationally, the introduction of vouchers, creating a fragmentation of the state system, can only lead to greater educational and social polarisation.

The voucher scheme, with its drive towards "semi-detached" state schools and the ending of local council involvement, is all part of an ideology which valorises choice over equality, self over fairness and narrow individualism over the common good. It is an ideological "solution" still vainly trying to concoct a relevant problem.

The Scottish Government should be wary of pandering to such an agenda. The real problems of inequality facing Scottish schools are well known, and have been for decades: there is no evidence that this sort of privatisation, even if marketed as encouraging "diversity" or "consumer choice", will do anything other than exacerbate the situation.

Donald Gillies, faculty of education, Strathclyde University.

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