Cut-price private schools are not needed in the UK

Janet Downs's picture

Britain’s first cut-price private school to charge just £52 a week’

The Sun, 22 February 2017

The paper outlines a proposal, reported days earlier in Schools Week, to open a low fee paying school (LFP), The Independent Grammar School: Durham (IGS: Durham).   It’s the brainchild of Professor James Tooley and Chris Gray, the head of Grindon Hall Christian School when it was judged Inadequate.

Writing in Schools Week, Professor Tooley describes how ‘no frills’ education can ‘take off’.   He cites his work establishing LFP schools in the global south and says 70% of children are educated privately in Lagos State, Nigeria. 

The converse of this is the closure in Uganda of all LFP schools run by Pearson-backed Bridge International Academies.  Not all African countries, then, see LFP schools as a benefit.  And academics are divided about whether LFP schools are the answer to educating the poor.

But, as Professor Tooley points out, the UK is not sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.   It has universal, state-funded education.

 In England, 90% of primaries and 78% of secondaries were good or outstanding at their last inspection*.  This raises the question why LFP schools are needed to compete with state provision.

Professor Tooley says it’s because schools are ‘accountable’ to parents if they’re paying fees.  But state schools are also accountable to parents.  And to governing bodies, local authorities, Regional Schools Commissioners, Ofsted, performance tables…  It’s disingenuous to say state schools aren’t accountable.  If anything, they’re too accountable.  Accountability is one factor in teacher overload.  And accountability via testing can have negative consequences.

That’s another argument, however.  Let’s return to IGS: Durham.  Professor Tooley says his team conducted research to gauge support for LFP schools.  This comprised ‘interviewing opportunistically selected parents’.  In other words, a self-selecting group.  At least Professor Tooley admits the research wasn’t a ‘randomised sample’.

This doesn’t prevent him claiming support: 62% of these opportunistically selected parents said they’d be interested.  He cited two parents who would be willing to eat beans for ever in order to send their children ‘through a posh school’.

That phrase speaks volumes about the unfortunate English tendency to regard paid-for education as ‘posh’ and therefore superior to state-funded schools

Professor Tooley hopes IGS: Durham will be the first in a chain of LFP schools in the UK.   As early as 1999, he said he wanted to “put forward the case for markets in education” in his book Reclaiming Education. He advocated: 

1         No state provision

2         No state funding (except perhaps for targeted indirect funding for the poor)

3         Relatively minimal regulation

4         Relatively easy entry for new suppliers

5         A price mechanism.

A market for education, then, must be found.  In poor countries it’s done by establishing LFP schools.  Their emergence threatens the growth of universal state education in developing countries.  In the West it’s done by rubbishing state education and offering other types of school as alternative choices.

But, as I point out in my Schools Week article about the proposed Durham school: ‘choice’ isn’t related to the performance of school systems as a whole but does increase social segregation.   England’s state system is already fragmented:  state, private, faith, academies, local authority maintained schools, UTCs, free schools, grammars, comprehensives…  There is no need for another type of school.  


*Ofsted Annual Report 2015/16  




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Nigel Ford's picture
Sat, 25/02/2017 - 21:11

I wonder how many of those parents in that sample had children at Durham Johnston school, the comprehensive which outperforms the famous eponymous public school of the city, when it comes to exam results.

Check out the stats.

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