James Croft admits that "Free Schools are heading for failure" but free markets and Academies are not the solution

Allan Beavis's picture
James Croft’s new “Think Piece” for the Adam Smith Institute  doesn’t quite give up the ghost on free schools (he ends it by stating that “ministers can’t afford to let free school reforms lag: let’s hope they regain the courage of their free market convictions” – good news for the somewhat battered Cognita?) but shifts the focus towards the government’s other jewel of educational reform – the Academy.

Croft claims that the ASCL survey proved how popular conversion to Academy status is amongst headteachers but he does not reveal that found 72% cited financial gain for the school as a reason for pursuing academy status rather than a pedagogical one. Neither does he reveal the extent to which the government has exerted pressure on schools to become academies – more money if you do it this year, threats of enforced Academisation, Lord Hill insinuating that schools, already in financial distress thanks to the government cuts and abandonment of BSF, would not get Academy status and thus the cash if they agreed to teacher’s unions requests to meet national pay and conditions, a culture of rushing through decisions without proper consultation and so on.

There is no real evidence that by replacing the system of LA maintained schools there will be a staggering improvement in academic standards within Academies and free schools. There are at least two high profile Academy failures (one, in the North-East, discussed on this site recently here has just been bailed out again to the tune of £5m) and there will undoubtedly be more and more to come. The challenge of educating a country of children from such economically, socially, ethnically diverse groups is not going to be solved either by selective admission, covert selection or an overemphasis on the “traditional” curriculum. As Croft says, schools fail, it begs the question why so much money is being thrown at them at the cost of improving and maintaining the schools we already have.

Croft’s last report for ASI on free schools (which recommended that the government should allow for-profit making companies in to run and even provide capital funding for free schools) was selective in the research published. Sweden is not the great model for free schools - Sweden has acknowledged the problems of commercial activity in schools and is now reviewing the policy. Profit-making companies controlling Charter Schools in America are justifiably and vociferously criticised for putting profit above education, resulting in boards losing control of their schools and, worse, litigation. Charter Schools have not solved the problem of educating the disadvantaged and poor in America. The important and authoritative Stanford University CREDO research into Charter Schools showing that only about 17% outperformed regular schools was not mentioned in Croft’s report.

Gove directly closing falling Academies and free schools is hardly likely, given that these are his babies. It is more likely he will cynically sacrifice maintained schools to prop up his disintegrating policies. It is these that are in decline and privatising state schools is not the answer either, Mr. Croft. They might line the palms of friends and families here and there but they aren't the saviour of education.
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