Academies, free schools and profit – blog fails to debunk “hysterical” article with facts

Janet Downs's picture
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.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/03/2012 - 17:03

"They are not interested for altruistic reasons. It's an investment," Freedman says. "Soon you'll see organisations given money to run schools rather than them sponsoring academies."

Quote from the Guardian, nearly four years ago. "They" are Kunskapsskolan and Edison Learning.

Edison Learning was given a contract to "turn round" Turin Grove school and boasted a rise in GCSE benchmark results from 11% to 27%. Impressive? But improvement had already begun when it took over the school just before the 2007 cohort took GCSEs and 22% of that cohort reached the benchmark.

Kunskapsskolan sponsors three academies in England, Hampton Academy (47% reached GCSE benchmark 2011), Ipswich Academy (no data in DfE 2011 school performance tables, but school website says that 34% reached the benchmark), and Twickenham Academy (49% reached the benchmark in 2011). It runs the school through the Learning Schools Trust, the charity established in the UK by Kunskapsskolan. According to TES, Kunskapsskolan has been lobbying Ministers to relax rules about profit-making schools. Kunskapsskolan met with Lord Hill in July 2010. Three months later Lord Hill officially opened the Hampton Academy.

Remember: it's not altruism - it's an investment.

Richard's picture
Wed, 18/04/2012 - 18:36

"But most of the international research evidence points to a clear link between greater operational autonomy for schools and improved performance."

So Toby Young is happy to draw on international evidence to validate free school and academy policy, and yet when his critics also draw on international evidence to crtique his precious free schools, as here he dismisses it as coming from a source "in a far away country which has a completely different education system to ours", in spite of the fact that that country happens to be Sweden whose praises Gove couldn't sing loudly enough and on whose free school model he based his free schools. Irony died.


Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.