Building upon the Centre’s pioneering research into self organised learning and the growth and development of low cost private schools across the developing world, we are now particularly well placed to identify the important lessons to be learnt for countries such as the UK who also want to think the unthinkable in education.

Particular areas of interest include:

  • the potential market for a chain of low cost private schools in the UK
  • experimenting with self organised learning in schools across the UK
  • the future of qualifications
  • how to guarantee parents their right to choose
  • the role of prices and the profit motive in education
  • how to encourage and promote entrepreneurship and competition in education
  • the hidden costs and unintended consequences of existing government policies


  • E.G. West Memorial Lecture – On October 19th 2011 Professor James Tooley delivered the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) E.G. West Memorial Lecture at Church House, Westminster, London.


The Profit Motive in Education: Continuing the Revolution (2012), J.B. Stanfield, Institute of Economic Affairs, 2012

This monograph makes the case for widespread acceptance of the profit motive in education.  It does so not by presenting statistics that demonstrate that profit-making organisations could drive up quality – there is already a substantial literature on this.  Instead, the authors show how profit making organisations could create an entirely new dynamic of entrepreneurship and innovation.  As well as improving quality and reducing costs within existing models, such an approach could lead to the development of completely new ways of providing education.

The Broken University, J.B Stanfield, Adam Smith Institute, 2010

In The Broken University, education expert James Stanfield examines what is seen and what is not seen in the UK higher education sector. In contrast to the conventional wisdom, he finds no compelling evidence to suggest that public subsidies to higher education have any economic benefit. Moreover, Stanfield convincingly argues that once its hidden costs and unintended consequences are taken into account, government intervention in higher education is doing far more harm than good, and is holding back the development of one of the UK’s most important service sectors.

E.G. West: Economic Liberalism and the Role of Government in Education by James Tooley, Continuum, 2009

E.G. West is indisputably a major thinker in education. James Tooley’s volume offers the most coherent account of West’s educational thought. This work is divided into: intellectual biography; critical exposition of West’s work; the reception and influence of West’s work; and, the relevance of the work today.This is a major international reference series providing comprehensive accounts of the work of seminal educational thinkers from a variety of periods, disciplines and traditions. It is the most ambitious and prestigious such project ever published – a definitive resource for at least a generation.

The Right to Choose: Yes Prime Minister edited by J.B Stanfield, Adam Smith Institute, 2008

Sweden has been operating a choice-based school funding system since the early 1990s, with great success. To promote this right to choose in the UK, three proposals are recommended: (1) parents should be entitled to remove their children from failing schools and choose any other school instead; (2) public finance would be available to all schools on the basis of the number of students they could attract; and (3) a non-refundable tax credit to provide parents with a pound-for-pound reductions in their income tax liability (up to an agreed limit) for each child they have in non-state education.

Government Failure: E.G. West on Education by Tooley J, Stanfield J, London, UK: Institute of Economic Affairs, 2003

This selection of E.G. West’s papers contains a wealth of economic and philosophical ananlysis which can guide policymakers in the field of Education. They also show how state monopoly provision of education has led to a particular model of schooling which does not work for many of those who use the education system – parents and children.  Perhaps the most valuable contribution of these papers, though, is their historical analysis. The extent to which education systems developed in the UK and the USA before either compulsory schooling or dominant state finance emerged is remarkable. E.G. West also analyses the debate between those who believe that the state should control education in order to shape the thinking of the younger generation, and those who believe in a plurist system. He demonstrates how universal state provision of education is the model that is least likely to benefit the poor, although they could benefit substantially from programmes to help them fund their education. In an era when there is increasing dissatisfaction with state education provision, but in which the state has ever greater control of the curriculum – including the teaching of ‘citizenship’ – and management of schools, the papers in Occasional Paper 130 have never been more relevant.

Delivering Better Education: Market Solutions to Education by Tooley, Dixon & Stanfield, Adam Smith Institute, 2003

Despite cross-party enthusiasm for delivering better education, it continues to fall short of public expectations. Recent figures show that, after 11 years of schooling, about seven million adults in England still cannot find the right page for a plumber in the YellowPages. A fifth of all adults cannot read or write at the level expected of an 11-year oldThe fundamental problem lies with the way education is delivered. The aim of this short paper is to show that there are tried and tested alternatives around the world. They bring in delivery mechanisms that are responsive to what parents and students require, meet the needs of all, including the most disadvantaged, and succeed in raising educational standards. These are market approachesto education. But moving towards these alternatives need not be a party-political issue: the values that underlie them fit in with the emphases of the current Labour government as much as with the Conservatives’ concern with freedom and choice.

Buckingham at 25: Freeing the universities from state control edited by Tooley J, Institute of Economic Affairs, 2001

Twenty-five years after the founding of Britain’s first and fully independent university, the University of Buckingham, it is time to take stock. Many commentators say that universities are in crisis, in terms of funding, resources and above all staff morale. New ways must be found for them to flourish and prosper.  One means of finding these ‘new ways’ is to revisit some of the lessons that led to the creation of the University of Buckingham in the first place, and re-apply them to the changing conditions of the present. This collection therefore includes Harry S. Fern’s Towards and Independent University, first published by the IEA in 1969, which provided the intellectual framework for the creation of Buckingham as a university. A selection of up-to-date essays by notable academics and commentators complements Fern’s important paper: all specially commissioned for this volume, the essays reflect on the past, present and future of British universities and put them into the context of an increasingly competitive global market.

Reclaiming Education by James Tooley, London: Cassell, 2000

This study provides a vision of education for the 21st century, synthesizing philosophical ideas and empirical information, and showing how the role of the state should be minimized. The author adopts the viewpoint of a sceptical jury representing both academic and public opinion. Drawing on research data on the role of private companies in the education sector in countries as diverse as Brazil, India and America, he confronts the big questions and hard challenges facing education, and shows the need for a libertarian future.


Book chapters

Educational Equality, Brighouse H, Tooley J, Rowe K. . London and New York: Continuum, 2010

Educational Equality and the New Selective Schooling by Harry Brighouse was initially published by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain in 2000.  In this new edition, Brighouse has updated his argument, Kenneth R Howe and James Tooley have contributed counter-arguments and Graham Haydon has provided an introduction and afterword drawing the debates together.  The issues debated in this new edition of Educational Equality include:  What is Educational Equality?  Why Does Educational Equality Matter?  Is Educational Equality Possible?

From Adam Swift to Adam Smith: How the ‘Invisible Hand’ Overcomes Middle Class Hypocrisy by James Tooley In: Halstead M; Haydon G, ed. The Common School and the Comprehensive Ideal. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008

This paper challenges Richard Pring’s suggestion that parents using private education may be undermining the desire for social justice and equality, using recent arguments of Adam Swift as a springboard. Swift’s position on the banning of private schools, which uses a Rawlsian ‘veil of ignorance’ argument, is explored, and it is suggested that, if equality of opportunity is a major aim, it does not go far enough by permitting parental partiality. If the only alternative is a Platonic state, then this may be acceptable. But a neglected third scenario, drawing on the insights of Adam Smith, shows ‘self-love’ to be a valuable social virtue, leading to a more favourable resolution of the ‘paradox of the shipwreck’ than that explored by Swift. Pointers are given to evidence from developing countries and a more detailed ‘veil of ignorance’ argument to support this case.

Private  Universities around the World by James Tooley & James Stanfield, in Can the Prizes Still Glitter?  The Future of British Universities in a Changing World, edited by de Burgh, Fazackerley & Black, 2007

Do academics still think? Is this the student experience? What is the future of science? Funding and freedom where are we going wrong? Are Mickey Mouse degrees crucial to the economy? Should we understand the Bologna Process? How do we select students for universities of the future? What does globalisation mean for research and teaching? Can The Prizes Still Glitter? is the inaugural publication of Agora, a new independent think tank focusing on the future of our universities. Thirty-four high profile vice chancellors, politicians, business people and academics from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and a range of institutions have written personal essays about where universities are now and where they ought to be. Between them they tackle the whole spectrum of higher education. They confront many of the big and often-uncomfortable issues Britain needs to face up to, exhibit some of the solutions of which individual institutions are proud, and outline the kind of tough decisions that politicians and university leaders need to take if British institutions are to match rapid progress elsewhere in the world.

Education Reclaimed by Tooley J.  In:Booth, P., ed. Towards a Liberal Utopia? London:Continuum Publishing, 2006

Socialists have never been shy of sketching out their dreams of a better world, but that better world has never materialised in socialist countries. Indeed, socialism has frequently achieved the precise opposite of what was intended by its architects.  The first part of Towards a Liberal Utopia? outlines the dreams of liberal economists and political scientists. These are not the dreams of people who wish to achieve their plans through central direction and who believe they know the precise outcome of the process called liberalisation. Rather our liberal thinkers sketch out frameworks for policy, which, in increasing the domain for individual action, will give rise to beneficial results that cannot be foreseen in detail. This will not lead to utopia, but the authors are confident that greater freedom will lead to better and more prosperous society.

Market Solutions for British Education by James Tooley and James Stanfield, Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution, Edited by  Subroto Roy and John Clarke, March 2006

This volume puts forward the simple premise that during the Margaret Thatcher premiership Britain came to be greatly transformed, mostly for the better and mostly by Britain pulling herself up by her own bootstraps. Future historians will identify a distinct ‘Thatcher Era’ marking a decisive turning point in the country’s history. Whether by accident, default or design, the origins of this political and economic transformation may have been obscured or even erased. The contributors to this volume correct the denial of history, and establish beyond doubt that the Thatcher Era altered British political and economic reality permanently. Aiming to get a precise grip on the facts, exploding myths about what happened and how it came to happen, they look back in a new way on the premiership of one of Britain’s most famous Prime Ministers. Each chapter is an original contribution that stands independently of the others. With authors from politics, academia and journalism, this book will provide the basis for a new, coherent and well-informed public discussion on many issues of importance for Britain’s future. This new edition now includes an introductory essay by Peregrine Worsthorne situating Margaret Thatcher as a statesman in an historical perspective.

General articles