Stories + Views
The dangerous liaison between free schools and for-profit making organizations is landing on our shores
This site has recently debated the desirability of for-profit making companies in the running of schools, (state maintained or private) and litigation taken by schools against the companies running them may be the American Nightmare – but it may well have already landed on our shores.
Days after the publication of James Croft’s Report for the Adam Smith Institute recommending that the government “should relax present constraints on the type of organisation that can set up and manage free schools”, here is an interesting article in the Evening Standard on the latest in the row between parents and Cognita, Chris Woodhead’s for-profit company which runs the fee-paying Southbank International School and which is bidding to run state maintained free schools.
Five of the parents have now set up a campaign group in an attempt to buy back the school from Cognita, who they accuse of “milking the school for money, underpaying staff and failing to invest in it.” In a letter to parents, the group sent a letter to parents saying “Cognita have no serious interest in maximising the educational experience of our children if it impacts on their bottom line.”
It appears that Cognita are not willing to sell “at any price” so the campaign group have “concluded that the only strategy that will work long term for the educational needs of our children is to take Southbank away from Cognita.”
This illustrates what a disastrous policy this above all when it is introduced into state maintained schools. For-profit making companies really should have no role is running or even investing what James Croft calls “the added advantage of new source of capital funding (sic), which the Department for Education sorely needs.” Cognita’s disastrous relationship with Southbank International School mirrors the many cases of litigation in the US taken out by schools against their for-profit organizations who want to be liberated from the stranglehold that the company has them in. Such is the power that the company has over the school boards, that irreparable damage is being done to the students’ education but like Woodhead, these companies are trying to turn the tables by accusing the parents of jeopardising the school’s reputation and their children’s education.
Parents and schools governors in the maintained sector are waking up to the myth of free schools, so we can expect much more dissent once free schools have actually opened especially if Gove’s desire for them to be financed and run by private companies, as recommended by ASI comes to fruition.
But will our free schools boards have the freedom even to consider legal action, given that they will have to jump over the byzantine hoops of arguing directly with Michael Gove about if, how and why their schools have failed in the hands of a Cognita or an Ark, when it was the DfE who encouraged them to let them run their schools in the first place? The freedom to run your own school might prove to be an unbearable straightjacket.