Parents should be allowed to choose the school for their children and the control of place allocations by the local education authority should be ended. This is a key recommendation of the Adam Smith Institute in its report ‘Learning from Europe’. The Institute has looked at the education arrangements in Denmark and Holland and found that parental choice combined with a per capita system of finance where the money goes to state and independent schools, delivers higher standards. It also results in high levels of parental satisfaction.As well as abolishing official barriers to school choice, the report urges that organisations, parents and teachers should be allowed to set up their own new schools or expand existing ones. In the Netherlands new schools qualify for funding provided that over time they can enroll a minimum of 333 pupils in the cities and 200 pupils in rural areas. In Denmark, support from the families of 28 pupils is required. These liberal provision policies have promoted a beneficial form of competition that has squeezed out most of the problem of failing schools that is so stark in the United Kingdom.
In contrast, the report highlights the effect of the surplus places rule in the UK. This rule effectively prevents new schools from being established, or successful ones from expanding when there are unfilled places in a nearby school, regardless of how unpopular that neighbouring school is and inadequate the education that it offers might be. The result is that high quality and competition is kept out. The report authors compare this situation to telling Garfunkles, or Pizza Express that they cannot open a new restaurant in your area because the local greasy-spoon cafe still has some empty seats.