Book review: The Voltage Effect

Writing for Schools Week, I reviewed John A. List’s new book The Voltage Effect.

What connects Jamie’s Italian, an early education centre and Uber? Economist John A. List argues persuasively that the answer is scale, and that it is an issue relevant to everyone.

Scale permeates education, yet is rarely considered systematically. And this means some things fail for predictable reasons. For instance, there is really promising evidence about tuition, but the challenges of scaling this rapidly have proved considerable. At the simplest level, we scale things when we extend them; this might happen across a key stage, subject, whole school, or group of schools.

Scalability is crucial to national conversations such as the current focus on teacher development, Oak National Academy and the expansion of Nuffield Early Language Intervention – now used by two-thirds of primary schools. Sadly, List explains that things usually get worse as they scale: a voltage drop.