Friday, May 18, 2007

Sorry, my thinking cap is on!

I am of course both considering some issues, as well as crafting my response to others.

I know what I think about education and grammar schools, however I do need to read David Willetts Speech in full before I comment.

Iain Dale has this, Burning our money has this, whilst Labour's Luke Akehurst has this on Harriet Harman and selective education.

I also have a clear handle on what I think of Gordon Brown, I just need to think about what is going to happen next. The FT has a couple of interesting articles, this one about raids on business for tax collection purposes which seem to extend the draconian powers of Customs officers to tax collection officers whilst this one covers how there is going to be yet another reorganisation of government departments.

Seems a bit like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic, but as long as it keeps Gordon happy!


dk said...

This is a very important as parallel factors apply in other areas of social policy.

There is a conflict between fairness and excellence. In the NHS, some expensive treatments are available on a limited basis. But thats 'not fair'. It is easier to prevent anyone from receiving these treatments, even if some NHS trusts value them more highly than other trusts. There is an obvious 'levelling down'.

'Tax credits' are the fairest way of directing financial assistance at the low paid. Is it GB's fault that the IT is too poor to make them work efficiently? (Yes, actually. The fairer the system, the more complicated. This is impressively fair, but fiendishly complex).

Similarly with grammar schools. If you want to have elitist institutions, leading to world class universities, re-introduce grammar schools. If you want to maximise excellence, thats the way forward. But if your greater priority is fairness, then you cannot go down that route.

Thus there is a trade-off between fairness and excellence in a number of areas of social policy. At the moment, fairness is everything, both for the govt, and seemingly the opposition.

Benedict White said...

DK, yes it is somewhat complex which is why I was not shooting from th hip on this one!

Thanks for your thoughts on the matter, though obviously the question I would ask is what do we mean by either fair or excellent?

I have the dreadful feeling I will come up with something so long, I will not want to read it!

dk said...

We can talk to each other on this, Benedict.

Excellence is not evenly distributed. Not all surgeons or teachers are the same. Some are brilliant, some just-good-enough and others are even poorer. Unfairness abounds.

So the better the best surgeons or teachers become, the more unfairness there is for the consumers of these state services. (The standard of the just-good-enough can only be improved marginally).

The reason that this is currently so important, is that fairness seems to be everything. Obviously, fairness should be a consideration of govt.

But when it becomes the only issue, there are all sorts of unintended consequences. There is a levelling down of treatment on the NHS (if we cannot afford for everybody to have the best treatment, it is fairer that nobody has it). There are the contortions of the tory party on grammar schools. With tax-credits, fairness always over-rules simplicity (simplicity is vital. The simpler something is, the easier it is to understand, and the easier to make it work).

Benedict White said...

DK, I take your points. Excellence is obviously rare.

The question in education is how to get the best out of the most pupils. We are currently failing on that.

As for excellent teachers and surgeons, yes that is true but I would argue that the best pupils don't need the best teachers, the worst do. What they all need is the right environments and more importantly a curriculum that both challenges them and engages them.

Driving all pupils the same way fails to engage a lot of pupils and that makes it hard to push pupils.

I am not sure I agree with your concept of fairness though. I think fairness is allowing people to compete and I don't think the current system does, though tax credits are a small part of the system.