In Britain, as in many areas of the industrialised world, the past decade has seen far-reaching changes in the provision of education. In England and Wales, and in Scotland, two apparently contradictory themes have characterised these changes: increased state intervention in the content and range of provision, together with increased deregulation within that range to stimulate an internal market. The avowed rationale for deregulation is that the competitive ethos created by market conditions will shake up a service hidebound by tradition, wrest control from the vested interests of professionals and bureaucrats, and promote more rapid response to the needs of society, understood as an economic entity. On its own, this rationale would be insufficient to justify a shift away from systematic local control and provision, directed towards the general welfare of the young, which prevailed throughout the decades of post-war consensus. Apart from any issues of principle, the rationale rests upon claims about the present state of education, and predictions about the effects of proposed change, which are, to say the least, questionable. There is, however, an overriding justification for deregulation which, being ideological, rests not on empirical claims which may be disputed, but on moral claims which are presented as above dispute.