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Adam Smith Inst - Send kids to tiny schools, says think-tank

Microschools vital to help disadvantaged pupils catch-up on lost education

  • ‘Microschools’ could play a key role in mitigating the damage caused to school pupils by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Cumbersome regulations and funding disparities that make it practically impossible to set up microschools in the UK should be reexamined
  • The UK must embrace innovation in education if it is to boost attainment for disadvantaged students
  • Competition and choice are key to driving up educational standards —  but only the rich currently have school choice

A new report from the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) calls on the Government to embrace microschools to help disadvantaged students catch up on missed Covid-19 learning and increase choice in education.

Report author Sophie Sandor argues that microschools or ‘pandemic pods’— set up by parents and educators to serve around 3 to 12 students—were valuable for students and parents in many countries including the UK during the pandemic. They served those who couldn’t afford tutoring or private schools during the pandemic. 

The new report, School’s Out, argues that microschools would give students and parents more choice, explore a diverse array of education techniques and increase competition to boost quality across the sector. 

Parents across the world, including in the UK, have begun to homeschool in recent years. This reflects not just improvements in communications technology but also dissatisfaction with the poor quality state education. Many parents who homeschool or are dissatisfied by state schools would value the option of microschools, which could offer high quality professional teaching, small class sizes and a focus on core academic subjects.

However, microschools are held back by cumbersome regulations and a funding system that limits parental choice. There is no regulatory ‘halfway house’ between homeschooling and large independent schools, meaning anyone wishing to set up a microschool faces the extremely difficult task of dealing with red tape and satisfying Ofsted.

The report recommends cutting red tape on would-be microschool providers and developing a schools sandbox: modelled on the Financial Conduct Authority's regulatory sandbox, to allow entrepreneurs to experiment with a diverse array of new arrangements for schooling.

It also calls for issuing parents with a voucher for education, redeemable at any school: state, traditional private school, or new options like microschools. The voucher would be equal to the average per-pupil cost of supplying a state education and would give low-cost microschools the chance to compete with state schools on a level playing field.

Rachael Ammari, the Founder of Hove Micro-School, which was established in September 2020:

"Mainstream schools no longer suit many children’s needs and home schooling can be overwhelming or simply impractical for families. Micorschools bridge the gap by providing expert tuition adapted to each child, in smaller class sizes and a more comfortable learning environment while providing a wide range of activities. Hove Micro-School demonstrates that it is possible to build a new type of school that really puts children’s learning first."

Hannah Titley of Golden Circle Tuition Ltd. said:

“The ‘one size fits all’ approach of mainstream school doesn’t meet the needs of every child. Microschools offer a personalised, competitive, and flexible education which enables children to learn more creatively and at their own pace. Parents have reported that their children feel less anxious, more inspired, and are learning more in small groups at home.”

Sophie Sandor, report author and education activist said:

“The COVID-19-related school closures which kept children out of school for the best part of a year have done untold damage to children's education and in particular those who require school the most to enhance their chances of succeeding in life. This has not only abetted the pre-existing issues in the state education system, but put a spotlight on how government regulation thwarts common-sense responses by the education sector to unexpected events.”

Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute said:

“For far too long mediocre state schools have let down our most disadvantaged. Microschools have the ability to inject meaningful innovation and competition into the schools sector — boosting standards for those who have been left behind. All we need to do is get the state out of the way and give parents and students much greater choice.” 

Notes to editors:  

For further comments or to arrange an interview, contact John Macdonald, | 07584778207.

The Adam Smith Institute is a free market, neoliberal think tank based in London. It advocates classically liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world.

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