School choice and paternalism

By James Zuccollo 23/01/2015

There is a very interesting report out from the Social Market Foundation that investigates the characteristics parents value in a school. The core result is that less-wealthy families do not choose schools on the basis of academic achievement:


This leads the SMF to express concern that school choice may not lift educational achievement because some parents do not consider it important. They then recommend Government intervention to promote the primacy of academic success. The line they’re treading between free choice and paternalism is a fine one. One the one hand, they want free school choice to improve the quality of schooling. On the other hand, they have a prescriptive view of what school quality means.

It is a difficult area because the parents cannot be assumed to be acting perfectly in the interests of their child. But, if we really think that the Government knows a child’s interests better than the parents then should we be promoting school choice as a mechanism for improvement? And if we want variation in schools to reflect the local community’s values then is it right to intervene when parents’ values are not the same as policy-makers’?