A Telegraph article
claims to rebuff a “hysterical” Guardian piece about profit-making educational providers by providing a catalogue of facts. But this seemingly robust debunking missed the mark.
FACT re free schools, academies and profit: academies and free schools are managed by charitable trusts but there’s nothing to stop them outsourcing to a for-profit Educational Management Organisation (EMO). IES hopes to make a profit from managing Breckland Free School. Zenna Atkins
, who also bid for the Breckland contract, said that "the deconstruction of the education function within local authorities" offered a chance to "make a substantial return to investors”.
FACT re outsourcing school management: the article is correct in saying that this policy began under Labour but that doesn’t make the policy right.
FACT re profit-making academies: the article is correct - there are no academies yet run by for-profit EMOs. But plenty are run by educational charities and these can prove profitable for those who run them. The ex-director of E-Act
was the best-paid man in education. And the National Audit Office
(NAO) has warned about potential conflicts of interest between academies and sponsors.
FACT re public support for profit-making EMOs: the article is correct – the YouGov poll
revealed that support is mixed which is hardly a ringing endorsement for the policy.
FACT re support for academy conversion: the article didn’t mention that the YouGov poll found that the largest group (29%) did not think conversion would make any difference to standards. Neither did it mention the lukewarm support
for either conversion or free schools among Tory voters.
FACT re accountability: the article is correct – academies are directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Education. There is no middle tier. Even Mr Gove recognises that this will bring problems and there ought to be an intermediary level
– the article didn’t mention that.
FACT re results in academies: only ARK academies are mentioned. Overall, academies performed worse
than any other type of school in 2011 – a smaller percentage of pupils reached the benchmark 5+ GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English. This figure is even smaller when the equivalent exams are stripped out.
FACT re Swedish EMOs and results: the evidence cited was from the New Schools Network (NSN) – hardly an unbiased source. The Institute of Education
(IoE, 2010) found that “The Swedish experiment (using for-profit private providers) has proved expensive and has not led to significant learning gains overall.”
FACT re “revolving doors”: the Guardian raised concerns about “revolving doors” whereby public sector policy makers subsequently find employment in the private sectors affected by their policies. This could lead to conflicts of interest
. The Guardian gave two examples: Zenna Atkins, ex Ofsted chair and now chief executive of Wey Education, and Sir Bruce Liddington, ex-director of E-Act. The Telegraph article said Zenna Atkins was not applying to set up free schools. However, the New Academy Guide
believed she was working with seven free school proposers. And ex-schools commissioner, Sir Bruce Liddington
, earned £280,816 when he was E-Act’s director general, a post he unexpectedly left last week.
Toby Young, the article’s writer, tried very hard to disprove suspicion about profit-making education providers running English state schools. Why, then, did he tell the TES
that for-profit companies should be allowed to “set up, own and operate” schools in England? Perhaps there are grounds for suspicion after all.