Right wing thinktank says there is no evidence to suggest that for-profit management of free schools compromises standards – but the opposite is true.

Allan Beavis's picture
According to The Guardian a right-wing think tank, The Adam Smith Institute, has very conveniently advised the government to allow profit-making companies to open and run free schools, arguing that Michael Gove's plans for reform are otherwise doomed to failure. Just some days after the government admitted that their policy was financially unsustainable.

The reason to open up free schools to the private sector without the framework of a charity or trust is so that the government can reach its target to provide 222,000 extra school places. So far just 41 free schools have proceeded to business case stage, and only a handful will open in September 2011. The Institute doesn’t appear to have recommended that the government should abandon the policy and create more school places within the existing framework of community schools by expanding and renovating schools.

The report says there is no evidence to suggest that for-profit management compromises standards – claiming the opposite appears to be true. But there IS evidence and it is to be found in Charter Schools, so beloved of Gove, in America.

I commented about the very real problems when public funds become private once they enter the account of management companies in US Charter Schools here on . Just one example out of many is a case filed last autumn against White Hat Management by the state of Ohio and 10 of it schools, asking the court to help the group of schools to “break free from the dominance by private interests”. The disputes arise from a suspicion that these companies put profit before education. They control essential schools services - management, operation, administration, accounting and curriculum with little transparency so that it is the school boards who get the blame when things go wrong and it is the students who carry the greatest risk when the schools fail.

The bottom line is that Charter Schools, in all respects, have not been the unqualified success that we have been led to believe. Charter Schools have had to learn very hard lessons from the privatisation of public schools. Only one of five charters has been successful, they have not been proven to improve the education or life opportunities for the poor and they are now engaged in complex breach of contract litigation with the for-profit organizations charged to improve standards. But apparently the thinktank haven’t considered this evidence - even though it is a few clicks away on the internet.
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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/04/2011 - 06:55

The Adam Smith report arguing for profit-making companies to run free schools is published only days after parents at Southbank International School complained that Cognita was putting profits before the education of their children.


Questions which arise from the report's publication at this time are:

1 Why is it happening now?
2 Who stands to benefit?
3 What are the long-term implications?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 21/04/2011 - 08:00

This is very interesting Allan. I can see that for-profit schools will lead to an even greater lack of transparency (although we have that now with free schools) and chronic cost-cutting at the expense of pupils. The central problem is that once you've got a "customer", you've usually got them for years -- it's a big wrench taking a child out of a school; it's not like walking out of a shop and going to another one. As a result, it's not a correct comparison to say that a school can be like Tescos.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/04/2011 - 08:10

The introduction to the Adam Smith report says that UK education is not fit for purpose. This is not true. We know that OECD PISA 2009 showed that UK students were performing at the OECD average in Reading and Maths, and above average in Science, while the 2007 TIMMS survey showed English students to be the top-performing European country in Maths and Science. It's hyperbole to suggest that UK education system has failed. So the question is: who stands to gain from the suggestion that UK schools are unfit for purpose?


Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 21/04/2011 - 10:01

Sam Bowman, Research Manager at the Adam Smith Institute has written in The Spectator http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/6885768/the-profit-motive-would-b... of the report’s recommendation to Michael Gove to remove all final barriers to for-profit making organizations to run free schools. The Swedish model is held up as the great example but previous research has shown that the experience of Sweden was “helpful, but necessarily limited” in the extent to which it could predict the impact of similar reforms in England because of the huge differences between the two education systems.

The Adam Smith report has conveniently ignored the damning evidence of for-profit organizations being sued by and counter-suing Charter School boards for failing to raise educational standards. And the situation in Sweden is not as rosy as the report likes to recommend.

In February, the Swedish Minister for Education, Jan Björklund said that some free schools give priority to profit for the owners before quality. Björklund is one of the most profiled advocates for free schools in Sweden yet told the Svenska dagbladet that “We on the liberal-conservative side have sometimes been naive when it comes to free schools” Changes in the legislation will now be investigated by a parliamentarian commission. One of the ideas is to forbid free schools to give profit to the owners if they cannot prove that quality standards are met.

In June last year the Telegraph reported on the conclusions of the Research in Public Policy, which showed that Swedish free schools benefited children from highly-educated families more than those from the poorest backgrounds. Researchers admitted that the latest study was specific to Sweden and was of “limited” use when predicting the impact of similar reforms in England and "The evidence on the impact of the reforms suggests that, so far, Swedish pupils do not appear to be harmed by the competition from private schools, but the new schools have not yet transformed educational attainment in Sweden.”

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