Diversity and choice

Monday’s Edge sponsored lecture on diversity of provision in education provided both a compelling argument for diversity in educational provision and some pertinent concerns about the impact on equality, and the reality of choice in a diverse school system.

Geoff Mulgan, Director of the Young Foundation made a compelling argument for diversity in education, and Anders Hultin, founder of Kunskapsskolan International gave a fascinating account of the voucher system used in Sweden. You can hear both speeches as well as the Q&A session in full in the audio file located here.

For me, the argument was made useful by the helpful distinction made between diversity of types of school, and diversity in the content of schooling.

Most people would agree that diversity in the content of schooling is desirable if we are to allow every young person to fulfil their potential.

However, more controversy surrounds diversity in types of school, and this was reflected in the concerns expressed by the audience during the Q&A session. Members of the audience expressed fear that structures which enabled diversity or quasi-markets in education would accentuate existing social divisions by providing opportunities for the well-informed, the educated and the confident, leaving the remainder with the poorest schools.

Interestingly, Anders Hultin countered these concerns saying that in the Swedish system while it was the middle class parents who were first to take advantage of more choice, other groups – particularly immigrant groups – were increasingly beginning to exercise informed choice and to take advantage of the system.

The question is whether Britain, which by some measures has the highest child poverty rate in the developed world, can afford to use Sweden as a model, when the latter has long had among the world’s lowest rates of inequality and deprivation. Do we want to risk embedding greater inequality in another generation, whose parents were divided in their ability to choose?

Geoff Mulgan argues that real diversity of provision within a single school will never be possible and that the school system needs new players in order for real change to occur. Even if there are risks, do we in fact have a choice?

If you would like to comment, please do so here, or visit the comments page for the lecture here.

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