Monday, September 05, 2011

Free schools: The profit motive is a side-issue

Most of the discussion of Nick Clegg's speech this morning has concentrated on his insistence that the new free schools will not be run for profit.

I shall return to that in a moment, but I want to say how much I welcome Nick's emphasis on the need to make sure that children from poorer families and in poorer areas benefit from these schools. As he said:
"I want them to be available to the whole community – open to all children and not just the privileged few. I want them to be part of a school system that releases opportunity, rather than entrenching it. "They must not be the preserve of the privileged few, creaming off the best pupils while leaving the rest to fend for themselves, causing problems for and draining resources from other nearby schools. So let me give you my assurance: I would never tolerate that."
I believe that Liberal Democrats should welcome diversity in educational provision. And that we should welcome it particularly in areas where the schools currently provided to those who cannot buy their way out of the system are not very good.

Perhaps there are ways of providing this within the sate system, but we don't talk about those much. Instead, despite having been out of power for 90 years, many of us seem determined to die in the ditch defending the status quo.

 As to the profit motive... A common view on the left, and amongst Liberal Democrats, is that anyone who works in state education - even superheads on six-figure salaries - is selfless and motivated solely by a wish to the best for children. By contrast, anyone who works in business is motivated purely by money.

But the truth is that we are all moved by a wide variety of motives, both noble and base. I suspect that allowing free schools to make a profit would not make much of a difference to the way those schools are run.

Which is why the making of profits is a far less important issue than ensuring that free schools are open to all.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Listening to an interview with children and parents on the first day of a "Free School" in Bristol, I was struck by the accents of interviewers and those intereviewed, all spoke with a plum-in-the-mouth. These schools are for the future, post democracy, elites. In Norway they use Islands to isolate and brainwash the young, In England it's free schools.

Graeme said...

Excellent post. I didn't understand this clamour about profit either. Indeed I would point out that most non-state funded independent schools are registered charities, meaning that they can't notionally make profits either. The effect of the charitable status is to necessitate that any would-be profit is reinvested in new school facilities/initiatives and aspects of ensuring fair access like bursary schemes for the economically disadvantaged.

In both education and the health service I've never understood this clamour from self-professed liberals for the state to be a monopoly provider. Within a robust regulatory framework, we should believe in plurality as a driver of consumer choice whilst retaining the state-funding mechanism that ensures universality. There are legitimate concerns about the mechanics of free schools/academies and the increased involvement of private providers in the health service, but even if a profit motive is allowed, the continued existence of state and voluntary sector providers within the same legislative framework and tendering process means that if profit is being put before quality of service, the right to receive state-subsidy could be reduced under the terms of the initial funding agreement.

The "two-tier system" attack on free schools and academies doesn't really make sense at all because they're required to meet the same admissions standards as local authority schools. Once the pupil premium properly kicks in it would be simply astonishing if these new schools became the preserve of the wealthy.

PW said...

Spot on. On our membership cards it says that the Liberal Democrats exist to build a society where none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance and conformity. I don't recall any small print saying "except where the teaching unions and The Guardian do not agree."

Tristan said...

All good points.

It really does seem like these Free Schools are for the middle classes to escape the frankly dire state of state education in much of the country without having to go to the fully private sector (because that would be a step too far).

If only the LibDems would start championing community run schools, experimentation in education and more in all areas of the country from leafy suburbia to gritty inner city to small villages.

How can we reduce the hurdles to supplying education instead of increasing them?

Also:
A common view on the left, and amongst Liberal Democrats, is that anyone who works in state education - even superheads on six-figure salaries - is selfless and motivated solely by a wish to the best for children. By contrast, anyone who works in business is motivated purely by money.

But the truth is that we are all moved by a wide variety of motives, both noble and base. I suspect that allowing free schools to make a profit would not make much of a difference to the way those schools are run.


Absolutely spot on.
I've known teachers in all sectors whose desire to educate was their prime motivation as well as those whose desire was to just have a job with long holidays...