“The idea of a state-run school seeking profit is likely to provoke a strong reaction,” says the Summer 2012 Academy Magazine
, “but James Groves of Policy Exchange argues that social enterprise can help improve standards.”
“Social enterprise schools may be a halfway house” between for-profit and not-for profit schools, argues Groves, and 50% of any “surplus” would be distributed to shareholders. This, he claims, will increase places in good schools and raise standards. This policy is essential, he says, because the percentage of “mediocre or poorly performing” schools outnumbers those judged outstanding. But this negative spin ignores the large proportion of good schools. Ofsted found that 70% of English schools were good or better
and just 2% were inadequate.
Groves underpins his argument that for-profit schools drive up standards by citing evidence about USA charter schools and for-profit Swedish free schools. But the evidence he chooses is selective. For example, he quotes a March 2011 report from The Centre for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO
) which showed that Indiana charter school pupils outperformed their peers in traditional public schools. But he didn’t quote CREDO April 2011
which showed that Pennsylvania charter school performance lagged behind traditional public schools. Neither did he quote the CREDO 2009
report which looked at 16 states and concluded that while 17% of charter schools provided “superior education opportunities”, nearly half had results that were no different from the local public schools and students in over a third (37%) performed “significantly worse” than those in public schools.
The above research didn’t differentiate between for-profit and non-profit charter schools and Mr Groves admits that evidence showing any differences between the two is “thin on the ground”. However, a major review
of all available evidence linking market systems with efficiency in education found that such evidence was “fragmented” and “inconclusive”. The review’s findings are summarised here
Groves said that there is already much for-profit provision in England. He cites nursery education but doesn’t say that the cost of this is eye-wateringly high
. He mentions for-profit involvement in alternative provision (AP) and Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) but didn’t say that Ofsted
had found that PRU success depends on the support PRUs receive from the local authority. Neither did he warn, as Ofsted's Annual Report 2011
did, that AP was “largely uninspected and unregulated” – organisations offering AP were not required to register and there were no evaluation arrangements in place. It’s easy to see how an unregulated sector would attract the attention of those who regard involvement in education as an investment not altruism.
The social enterprise model is touted as the acceptable face of making money from education. However, any provision of services to vulnerable people in the hope of a return on investment risks a reduction in the level of those services – Cognita
and the collapse of Southern Cross
should act as a warning. Behind the rhetoric about choice, social enterprise and rising standards lies one aim: to transfer taxpayers’ money to the pockets of shareholders.