Letting for-profit education providers run schools is no answer to improving education in England

Janet Downs's picture
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‘There is a strong case to be made for opening up new supply by allowing a broader profile of education management organisation entry.’

James Croft, Adam Smith Institute, writing in Schools Week

In simple words, this means allowing for-profit education providers to run English state schools.

There aren’t enough sponsors to take over ‘coasting’ schools, writes Croft. The ‘sponsor pool’ is ‘limited’ and the brokering system which matches schools with sponsors is ‘competitively stagnant’. This ‘inefficient’ system has resulted in an ‘untenable situation’ whereby half of sponsored academies are rated inadequate or requires improvement at their first inspection.

It appears, then, Croft is blaming brokers for sponsorship not living up to Government hype. The ‘system’ is at fault, not the policy itself.

But the National Audit Office found informal interventions such as local support were more effective (and cheaper) than formal interventions such as academy conversion. The Education Select Committee told politicians to stop exaggerating academy success – non-academies in similar circumstances did as well.

Croft is concerned that if the new Government doesn’t act swiftly to ‘speed up the process’ of taking over schools ‘before the credibility of its academy programme is undermined’.

But credibility has already been undermined. Deception about academies has in fact been going on since they were first established. Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money later, the academies programme as a means of improving all schools is ineffective. But the juggernaut rolls on with calls for a ‘broader profile of education management organisation’ adding to the weight.

‘A considerable number of interested and internationally-proven providers have been put off to date by the prohibitive conditions imposed by central government,’ Croft writes. But for-profit provision has already been introduced in England – the Telegraph congratulated Michael Gove for bringing in for-profit schooling ‘unobtrusively’ when Sabres Educational Trust outsource the running of its free school in Breckland to for-profit Swedish firm Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES). IES was not ‘put off’ by the last Government – it was courted when the Coalition came to power. IES wrote on its website*:

“The UK Government has been actively seeking Internationella Engelska Skolan as a potential provider of the necessary vision and infrastructure to make the first wave of Free Schools a success.”

IES Breckland has not been successful – it’s been judged Inadequate. And Ipswich Academy, sponsored by another Swedish for-profit firm, Kunskapskolan, has twice been judged Inadequate. Kunskapskolan’s two other sponsored academies have been judged to require improvement.

Michael Gove, remember, declared his support for profit-making schools when he told Policy Exchange in 2010 he would let groups like Serco run schools. But the only beneficiaries of Croft’s proposals would be the ‘education management organisations’ – if profits aren’t forthcoming the schools would be dumped just as JB Education, owned by private equity firm Axcel, closed its schools in Sweden leaving hundreds of pupils without places.

The answer to improving England’s schools is to provide local support for struggling schools. It’s rolling out a London Challenge style policy across the country. What it isn’t is a blind adherence to academy conversion with for-profit education providers thrown in.

 

And that’s without discussing the important issue of what education is actually for. But that’s a subject for another post. One thing, however, is for certain: education isn’t a lucrative market for those whose main interest is to make money.

*The page is no longer available. However, I quoted the site in a Freedom of Information request in December 2011.
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Comments

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 02/06/2015 - 16:58

Another great piece, Janet.

James Croft discusses how for-profit providers are held back by the present system,
inhibiting 'chains from deploying resources where they are needed most.

To change this there needs to be a comprehensive review of the financial controls operating on Multi-Academy and Umbrella Trusts.'

The only comprehensive review needed is that which will make trusts and trustees publicly accountable when they lie, bully staff, fail children and families and commit acts of gross misconduct, ie fraud! Once again, it's a case of trotting out the same old tired arguments in the hope that no one will notice the BS.

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