We recently saw the Labour Party make some potentially sensible proposals on education – moving to enhance the status of teachers by simultaneously licensing them and requiring them to undertake continual professional accreditation, and making it easier to fire consistently underperforming teachers and helping them transition out of the profession.
Contrast this good news of the Labour Party embracing a carrot-and-stick performance-based approach to educational reform, with this dismal, tired suggestion from Social Market Foundation. The Guardian reports the details of their latest proposal:
One proposal would see popular state schools being means tested, with the most affluent parents being charged for their children to attend top schools.
Families earning more than £80,000 a year should contribute financially, with those with an annual income above £200,000 having to pay the full price of their children’s education at the best state schools. Fees should be the same for the wealthy as those charged at independent day schools.
This “parent premium” for households earning more than £200,000 a year would generate surplus funds, a quarter of which would be retained by the school, with the rest redistributed among other state schools.
We can lump this nonsensical idea together with all of the other vengeful “clobber the rich” schemes broached by those on the left to create a fairly accurate picture of their ideal Britain. In their Ideal Britain, anyone earning much over £150,000 a year would be subject to a 50% marginal tax rate on their income. And when they reached £200,000 a year, a household wanting to send their children to a “popular state school” would have to pay a school fee in line with the fees charged by private day schools, because why the hell not?
Implementing this policy would likely cause a fair bit of bemusement and anger among the evil rich fat cats being targeted, as they rightly assume that the hefty taxes that they pay entitle them to equal access to the state services that they help to fund. If, when a household has paid well over half of their income to the government once income tax, national insurance, other direct taxes and VAT are taken into account, I don’t think it is very unreasonable to assume that they have contributed enough and maybe give them a break. But not according to the Social Market Foundation. Having gone through the fiscal wringer once already, SMF sees them ripe for further punitive action, charging them for access to the good state schools that they are already paying to fund.
What next? Means testing access to NHS services? Charging for chemotherapy or kidney transplants? Where does this end?
In fact, the SMF proposal would create the bizarre and perverse financial incentive for parents to send their child to a “less good” or less popular state school so as to avoid spending up to £30,000 a year in fees. Their children might suffer as a result, but perhaps those who advocate for ideas such as this would see that as a good thing. By dragging down the progeny of the rich and successful, we create the more equal, mediocre society that they long for.
This is regressive social engineering of the worst kind, dragging down the successful and clobbering them for more money, funds which would be used for the nebulous purpose of “helping the less fortunate”. As always, the methods of taking from the rich and successful are very enthusiastically and clearly articulated, but the process by which those seized funds would be translated directly into helping the less fortunate is much more vague.
The long and short of it is this. I may greatly disagree with the current heavy tax burden, and the huge, creaking behemoth state that it funds, but I also recognise that it is the concept of everyone paying in and everyone being eligible to partake of the results that helps to create social cohesion and makes us a country rather than a bunch of economic agents who happen to live on the same island. Charging richer parents to send their children to schools that they have already paid taxes to provide – indeed, closing off access to any public services from the wealthy people who provide the lions share of the funding for them – only serves to further entrench the us vs. them atmosphere already roiling our country, but this time would give the rich some ammunition to justifiably argue their corner.
Spending on education increased from £40.6 billion in 1999 to £88.6 billion in 2014, and is estimated to rise further to £90.9 billion in 2016. If British educational standards are indeed stagnating or worsening, chronic underinvestment does not make a convincing scapegoat. Making rich people pay market rates to avail themselves of the public services that they have already funded through their taxes would no doubt fulfill many of the darker, more insidious desires of some on the left. But one thing that it would certainly not do is fix our educational problems.