Ex-Gove advisor changes mind about for-profit schools in England

Janet Downs's picture
Sam Freedman, ex-Gove advisor who once supported for-profit schools, argues on this blog that for-profit schools wouldn’t work in England.

This is my reply:

I welcome your statement that profit-making schools wouldn’t work in England. And you were right to draw attention to the “virtual” charter school scandal in the US.”

“You’re correct that many schools have joined together in federations. But they don’t have to be academy trusts to do this. The Gypsy Hill Federation, for example, wanted to show there was an alternative to academy conversion.”

"You’re right that academies and free schools are run by not-for-profit trusts but you've admitted money can be made from these set-ups. Recent cases show how money can be diverted from education provision."

"Some of these trusts are vehicles which can provide a return to investors. Wey Education, an approved academy sponsor, admits this. Other trusts are not-for-profit wings of for-profit companies. Some, like IES, are for-profit providers which take over the running of schools on behalf of trustees (IES Breckland). In theory, trustees have ultimate responsibility, but in practice it’s the firm that’s in control. It’s a win-win situation for these companies – if all goes well they make money but if the school isn't profitable, the firm folds or the school fails then the trustees bear responsibility and taxpayers pick up the tab. The shadow of Southern Cross looms large – schools, like old people’s homes, can’t be allowed to collapse.”

“You argue the court case surrounding UCL’s sponsorship of an academy in Camden is relevant because the judge ruled there was no remuneration apart from costs involved in the sponsorship. However, the case raised the question of whether future education providers that do make a profit would need to be aware of the need to comply with the procurement regulations.”

“Sponsorship of schools is now in the gift of the Department for Education (DfE). Some of their approved sponsors are for-profit providers or charitable trusts linked to such providers. And, as I say above, one of them, Wey Education, openly admits that running schools could be profitable. Wey said the DfE has promised to provide Wey with a school and it hopes to become the biggest private provider of education in English state schools. Could such a promise fall foul of procurement regulations?”

“It’s one thing to sell stuff or services to schools – schools can change suppliers if they wish to. But if the sponsor provides everything from curriculum to accounts then the school can’t back out. This makes it all too easy for the sponsor to cut the level of service in order to maximise profits via the non-profit vehicle.”

"The National Audit Office (2010) found that many sponsored academies felt under pressure to buy services from their sponsors. The NAO felt it was a conflict of interest."

“And that’s the crux of the matter. When for-profit providers become involved in education there will be a conflict of interest between the children’s right to a good education and the need to make money for shareholders.”

Remember, when for-profit education providers become involved in education “They are not interested for altruistic reasons. It’s an investment”


Profit-making schools have been the subject of two of my recent threads – see here and here. For Henry Stewart’s thread, Vote Tory if you want schools run for profit, click here.

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