In an interesting piece in The Australian this morning, former ACCC chairman Allan Fels suggests that Australia’s schools are on “the verge of a revolution that will end the ‘Berlin Wall’ between public and private systems,” and proposes a voucher system that would allow parents to spend a taxpayer grant in either system.

Voucher scheme supporters want more school diversity and improved standards through competition. A full voucher scheme, in which parents could take all the money that would be spent on their child in a government school to a private school, would probably have a huge impact. In the 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 54% of people agreed that private schools provided better education than government schools, and only 25% disagreed.

Polling by the Australian Council of Educational Research found that concerns about discipline and values were even more important than academic performance in driving the shift from government schools.

We’re not yet on the “verge” of vouchers, for financial and political reasons. Parents who are paying private schools for something they could get for free in government schools save governments lots of money, money that governments might be reluctant to hand back if a voucher system were established. And public education’s passionate ideological supporters are a major influence on state Labor governments and would be intractably opposed to a voucher system.

But as long as there is a significant number of people are dissatisfied with public education the push for greater choice through vouchers is not going to end.

Andrew Norton worked on a failed 1999 university voucher scheme while an adviser to then Education Minister Dr David Kemp.