Incentivising Excellence: how school choice affects education quality


  • 09/04/2013
Incentivising Excellence: how school choice affects education qualityby Gabriel H. Sahlgren, Director of Research, The Centre for Market Reform of Education

Introduced by Professor Philip Booth, Editorial and Programme Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs

with Neil McIntosh, recently retired Chief Executive of the CfBT Education Trust, one of Britain’s largest educational charities.

Spurred by perceived inefficiencies in centralised state schooling, school choice in publicly funded education has during the past decades gone from being a fringe academic theory to a mainstream policy option considered by politicians all over the world.

This book begins with a discussion of the theory linking school choice to education quality, and the conditions that need to be fulfilled. Without complementary reforms designed to alter the incentive structure in education, there is little reason to suggest that choice would generate large gains. This, in turn, indicates that system design matters strongly for the outcomes of choice programmes.

Second, the book provides a comprehensive evaluation of the research regarding the effect of school choice on educational achievement – encompassing multi-country studies and research on large, national as well as small-scale programmes – with in-depth discussions of national choice programmes in Sweden, Chile, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the UK. Overall, the research displays different effects in different regions/countries, indicating that system design is indeed key for the impact of school choice programmes. It remains clear, however, that all programmes suffer from significant flaws that have undermined their effectiveness. Despite numerous efforts to introduce school choice, most attempts have been half-hearted, making it unsurprising that many of the reforms have not induced more than relatively small improvements.

The key lesson is that school choice should not be seen as an isolated reform measure but rather as a cornerstone in a coherent reform package designed to transform the incentive structure in education. The book goes on to propose reforms necessary to create a functioning education market in the UK.

Copies of the book will be available at the launch at the specially discounted price of £10/copy.

Gabriel H. Sahlgren is Director of Research at CMRE. He has been a Research Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (our host think tank) since January 2012. He holds a BA in Politics from the University of Cambridge.

Neil McIntosh recently retired as Chief Executive of the CfBT Education Trust, one of Britain’s largest educational charities. He was formerly CEO of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and, prior to that, of Shelter, the national campaign for the homeless.

RSVP (acceptances only) to [email protected]