Working Paper 08/194 - abstract

Exit, Voice and Quality in the English Education Sector (PDF, 112kB)

Deborah Wilson

The use of choice as a mechanism to improve public service delivery is now well established in the UK. Current policy discourse additionally considers voice as a further, complementary, user-driven mechanism. In this paper I scrutinise the assumption that choice (exit) and voice complement each other in creating user-driven incentives to increase quality for all consumers in the context of education. I do this by going back to Hirschman’s (1970) thesis, focussing in particular on the definitions of quality put forward by him. I apply his analysis to the English education sector and show that, while the current policy discourse evokes the language of Hirschman, it doesn’t follow through on the actual implications of his analysis. In particular, I argue that in the current system, choice and voice may complement each other for only a subset of consumers.

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