Education Mar 16 2010

‘For profit’ schools on the cards

Interesting interview with Rachel Wolf in the Guardian today. It explains how the New Schools Network, which she runs, may entice private providers into running independent state schools by allowing them to make a profit.

It is quite simple really. A non-profit making charitable trust, maybe a parent group, starts the school. Then they ‘contract out’ the job of running it to a private company, in much the same way as as other services, like school meals, facilities management and ICT have been outsourced in recent years. Technically the trust would not be profit making, but the rewards for the outsourced company could be considerable, especially if they run chains of schools.

Writer Toby Young, who wants to set up his own free school in West London, is already onto the idea and is apparently in talks with two Swedish profit making companies to run his school. ‘There is something quite attractive about the idea of bringing someone in to operate the school on a full service contract’ he explains.

But what would the outsourcing of education to a profit-making company mean in practice – would teachers be employed by the trust or the management company? Most outsourced contracts require TUPE-ing staff across to the private provider. And where would the profit margin come from? Keeping costs down? Or payment by results? That might explain why the new free schools are so keen to have control over teachers pay and conditions. And it doesn’t take long to work out what such incentives to attract and keep the ‘easier to teach’ children might mean for admissions, exclusions and for pupils with special educational needs.

Even though the power for local authorities, and others, to outsource the management of education (along with site and back office services) exists at the moment, very few local authorities or governing bodies have taken it up, although Edison, an American education provider, took over the management of Salisbury School in North London several years ago.

But the New Schools Network model involves putting parent or teacher promoter groups ‘in touch’ with established education operators.

Other private education providers like GEMs and Lilac Sky Schools, which recently took over a special school in Somerset and whose Director of Education Services, Trevor Averre Beeson, used to work for Edison,  says he is ‘unashamedly working to be profitable’ for his shareholders, clearly have an interest in this area judging by their websites. And the market is presumably ripe for entry by other private sector, non charitable chains like Cognita.

It is a brilliantly simple solution for anyone who secretly wants to incorporate the profit motive into our schools, but would rather not say so, because technically it isn’t the schools that are making the profit. Whether it will work so well for pupils, or teachers, remains to be seen.

5 Responses to “‘For profit’ schools on the cards”

  1. You’ve explained this very clearly. This is deeply troubling because it stops our schools being accountable to their local communities, their parents, their teachers.

  2. susan says:

    So we could have a bunch of schools learning completely different things? If a Headteacher and the parents of a NSN school decide that they should teach racism they will have the power to do so…..? Their site says NSN schools are ‘accountable to government’ – I think this needs to be expanded on. It sounds like a very big idea where too many things can go wrong in my opinion.

  3. AlanJCarter says:

    A very interesting insight to what appears like the end game of a long standing and often denied drive to privatise the State funded Education Service.

    It would be interesting to know how NSN was set up. It is clearly well funded and is registered as a Charity – but has the look of Quango with overt or covert support from the Government.

    I will do some research on this!

  4. ThetisMercurio says:

    Lack of accountability is a great worry to those who have experienced the odd behaviour of certain ‘niche’ school systems towards parents who express concerns.

    I agree with Alan Carter that the NSN requires greater scrutiny. Has he or Fiona read this?

  5. fmillar says:

    Thanks. That is very interesting. I have been sent other worrying material about the Waldorf Steiner philosophy and will be writing about this shortly!

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