The Selsdon Manifesto dates from the Group's founding in 1973. Nearly fifty years on progress has been made in some areas, particularly in the balance between the public and private sector. Some sections however remain relevant today
There is a strategic disadvantage in arguing for freedom in education if it is generally conceded that the state is uniquely competent to run the substantial part of anything as vital as the schools and colleges of the country. Far from accepting that capitalism can sell groceries but not education we must maintain that the more immediately ‘human’ commodities should be controlled by the most human of devices - the open market.
The great difficulty in arguing for a free market in education facilities is satisfying the doubt about lower income families’ capacities to meet the cost. If we continue to have a constricted labour market this may be true. Nonetheless we believe that it can readily be demonstrated that the average income family surrenders more in tax to the State than it gets back in the amalgam of benefits. The arithmetic is simple in education expenditures - the Department of Education and Science aggregate figures divided by the number of school children reveals an annual outlay of about £300* per child. We believe that complete tax relief to each family would achieve the same effect, plus the advantages, political and personal, of family discretion and choice on the nature of schools.
For this reason we favour the voucher redeemable by the parents as they find appropriate. The present university grant system represents a voucher-like phenomenon - it being accepted by the Government that students are competent to cater for themselves. We believe that such policies would lead to a far greater total expenditure on education to supplement the state-endorsed provision. To forbid, or outlaw parental expenditure on their children would be simply absurd.
If it is true that we can identify principles in the administration of education it is worth pursuing them. An open market would widen options and education would not be subject to the priorities of the D.E.S. but to the infinite range of parental preferences. The Conservative Party should extend the market in education because of the latter’s sensitivity to the consumer and because a market solution minimises state coercion. We are convinced that such a policy would be politically popular. A Labour Party opposing wider choice in education would be as foolish as a Labour Party abolishing independent television.
*In 2023 the funding per pupil is £7,460