Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Cut-Price Private Schools, Coca-Cola's Special Ingredient and Free Movement, 1930s-Style

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Cut-Price Private Schools, Coca-Cola's Special Ingredient and Free Movement, 1930s-Style

Article excerpt

Is it possible to educate a child for 2,700 [pounds sterling] a year, which is about half what the average child in a state school costs and barely a quarter of what even the cheapest private schools charge? Those are the fees for a new private school, just opened in Durham by James Tooley, a Newcastle University professor of education. He argues that by renting low-cost buildings, cutting out "frills" such as swimming pools and playing fields, recruiting young (and therefore cheap) teachers and increasing class sizes, private education can be brought within the means of many more families.

He aspires to launch similar schools across the English north-east, having already established a low-cost private school chain in Africa. He has sunk his savings into the project and expects to attract private investors. Is he insane? What works in developing countries, where public services are weak, underfunded and often corrupt, can't work in Britain, can it?

I am not so sure. In a separate venture, another low-cost private school, albeit charging twice as much as Tooley's, is planned for London. As the British state decays, private firms are moving even into policing (see previous columns). Private enterprise has a usually reliable nose for where it can make money. Thanks to the Tories' obsession with creating quasi-markets, the state school system seems, to many parents, to be increasingly fragmented and chaotic. In urban areas, getting places in the "right" schools is a complex, headache-inducing process that may involve moving house or renting a flat in the appropriate catchment area. Some families may conclude that it's simpler--and possibly cheaper--to write a cheque.

Absent without leaves

Coca-Cola, it is reported, is looking into producing a cannabis-infused beverage. But as every schoolchild knows, the original drink, invented in 1885 and advertised as a medicine that supposedly cured headaches, indigestion and other ailments, contained a different drug: cocaine. Such drugs were then unregulated in America as they were in Britain, where about half the population in Victorian times got high on laudanum, a cough suppressant that contained 10 per cent opium.

What later happened, as drugs were banned, is less well known. The company, which keeps the Coca-Cola recipe strictly secret, denies that the drink ever contained "added cocaine". That much is true: Coca-Cola never had dollops of white powder in it. But it still contains "decocainised coca leaf extract". A partner company has special exemption from US laws to import the leaves, provided it extracts the alkaloid used in purified cocaine powder and then either destroys it or sells it for approved medicinal products.

The harmless extract could be used for other consumer products such as tea. It would be a great boon to Peruvian coca farmers if it were. But Coca-Cola has a monopoly on those imported leaves. …

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