Abolitionists have Human Rights law against them


 Sweden is seen as a good example of how non selective autonomous (free) schools can operate effectively without creating a two tiered system of schooling characterised by good schools and sink schools.

In the Swedish system funding follows the pupil and the existence of independent schools within the state system is seen to have driven up standards across the board. At the time of Sweden’s school revolution in the 1990s a key argument successfully used there to promote school choice, against significant early opposition, was the claim that freedom to choose in education was a basic human right, being specifically enshrined in the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become a secular bible for thousands of human rights workers, and according to some commentators, it represents one of the greatest steps forward in the process of global civilisation. Article 26 of the 1948 Declaration outlines the first definition of the right to education, agreed and sanctioned by the United Nations and the wider international community. Those who drafted this document it transpires were determined to avoid a state monopoly in education, and hoped that confirming the right to choose would erode state monopolies where they existed. Although the Declaration’s authors wanted education to be free and compulsory, they did not want governments to dominate its provision, as presently happens in the United Kingdom. Crucially though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provisions mean that the independent sector is protected from any political drive to abolish it. When lawyers say that independent schools are protected by Human Rights law this is the key provision they are normally referring to.

 So it is worth looking in detail at the relevant Article 26, covering education, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 Article 26 states- (1)“ Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit; (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace; (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

 So, there we have it, in a nutshell.

 The left comes up with ingenious arguments about why the independent sector should be abolished and parental choice limited, normally along the lines that it promotes inequality and exacerbates social divisions within society.

The apologists forget though the discomfiting truth that only a totalitarian, markedly illiberal government, riding roughshod over human rights law, could ever begin to attempt abolition. It is interesting to note that in the debate, at the time, surrounding this third clause, a Lebanese delegate argued persuasively and to good effect that it was important to ‘exclude the possibility of situations in which dictators had the power to prevent parents from educating their children as they wished’. Control of education therefore should ‘not be left entirely to the discretion of the state’

 Indeed, it is an arresting fact that in the most socialist and purportedly egalitarian of states, the ruling elite, (think old Eastern Bloc and China now) will always make absolutely sure  sure their own children secure an elite education, the best that party membership can buy,  as distinct  of course from that offered to the masses. Abolition of private schools and the choice that goes with it, would not end the practice of those with the most power and resources securing the best education for their children and the social and economic benefits that go with it.

 The only viable policy to pursue in a liberal democracy, if you are concerned about the existence of a vibrant private schools sector and its effect on the state sector, is to improve free state education to such a degree as to make private schools largely irrelevant. Interestingly, in this respect, some see the Tories proposed free schools programme as a threat to the independent sector and so it could presumably be a wake up call to some in the sector, if ,that is, it takes off in the way that the Tories envisage.


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