Profit has no place in state education

James O’Shaunessy, who is described in a BBC news article as ‘David Cameron’s former policy chief’ has written a report for the think-tank Policy Exchange saying that failing schools should be taken over by for-profit education companies. I’ll quote some of the article, which is by Hannah Richardson, to give you a little more detail.

“The report says at the first Ofsted notice to improve, schools should be obliged to become a state-funded but privately run academy under a new sponsor. At the second, the academy would be obliged to join a successful academy chain of at least three schools bound together legally, financially and operationally. If no improvement is seen by the third notice to improve, the governing body would be obliged to hand over the running of the school to a proven educational management organisation, which may or may not make a profit. This organisation would then operate the school on a payment-by-results basis.”

When I read this a whole list of objections leapt into my mind and I am going to try to get them down in words.

  • Whither the school fête? How can people be asked to take part in fund-raising activity for the school when it’s actually making money for shareholders? Therefore, how will they raise funds for the extras which schools generally can’t afford (new cricket bats, a piano, money to support poor kids to go on school trips)?
  • Whither the PTA? Most PTAs are charities. If a school is taken over by a profit-making company, surely the PTA will lose its right to charitable status. How can it justify its charitable objectives when the organisation it would be supporting and raising funds for is making a profit?
  • Whither trust and foundation funding? How could a school get funding from a trust, for example to support an anti-bullying policy or disability awareness, if it is a for-profit organisation? Many trusts give funds to schools qua schools, while stipulating that other recipients (such as arts organisations) should be registered charities. Many give money to PTAs as a way of maintaining this aspect of their funding policy. Will they give to a school which is part of a profit-making company?
  • Whither outside companies visiting the schools? A lot of organisations which do schools workshops and longer projects are charities which have charitable objects and which are subsidised by charitable donations (and sometimes public money too). Why should they offer subsidised work to schools which are profit-making? Why shouldn’t they charge the full whack for their services?

These are failing schools that we are talking about – schools which have need of all the help they can get from outside organisations. The carefully-balanced and intricate economic culture of school life could be shattered by the introduction of profit-making.

Added to this, the school is the hub of the community for families and in a wider sense for its whole catchment area. People develop loyalty to their local school and have a relationship with it which would be damaged by the introduction of money-making. A school run for profit would be the target of increased discontent and complaint as the goodwill ebbs away.

I have not even  begun to get into the arguments that present themselves concerning the creeping privatisation of the education system that this idea represents. (Perhaps another day.)

As usual, a radical policy is presented by someone whose thinking demonstrates that he cannot possibly understand what education and its place in our community are or should be.  I sincerely hope this ill-founded and ignorant idea disappears forthwith.

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Published in: on October 17, 2012 at 09:20  Comments (8)  

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  1. State education is for all. If the government is failing in one of its primary duties (using our tax money to educate) then it must not, cannot, hand over responsibility to any other body, least of all a private one. Anarchists let’s unite against this potential derogation of duty by our elected officers.

    • Beautifully put, Jane. Thank you for the clarity of your response. (I didn’t know you were an anarchist though!)

  2. Lady Eff, as usual you show yourself to be more of an expert than the people in charge. Frankly I think this should go straight on the front page of a newspaper. I am going to send a link to all my education and charity contacts. You are more joined-up than any of these privatisation-obsessed idiots we are saddled with in government. Education is not a business but a complicated ecosystem embedded in the life of the nation – more a web than an entity. As a charitable Trustee myself I can see exactly the difficulty with funding – we have rules to abide by and charity is not here to line shareholders’ pockets. Three cheers for you.

    • I’m going to slightly mitigate my intemperate “idiots” remark (not big or clever), especially as this is a think-tank report rather than government policy. But I do think that there is a great danger that the webs and eco-systems of community are simply not present in the consciousness of those who are coming up with these ideas. Do the privately educated even know what a PTA is? (I ask genuinely for information.)

      • Lady Eff – my sons’ public school has a PTA, they raise money for things like school trips and equipment for the many school clubs. Boys also do their own fundraising for things like sports tours and the PTA contribute to that too. However this is a school with a lot of bursary funding for poorer families and I don’t know if all public schools do this.

  3. Philly – thanks for that info – so this thinktank should be well aware of the complex economy of schools. I think the potential difference with this new idea is that the schools will have profit-taking shareholders, which I think is probably different from most public schools? Charities (as the big private schools are) cannot distribute profits.

  4. I was in a meeting today with a chap who is CEO of a charity which runs rehabilitation programmes in prisons. The programmes are on a social enterprise model which generates income, but need a lot of seed funding and make a trading loss which is justified by the success of the charitable outcomes, ie falling recidivism. He is rolling out new programmes, one of which is in a private prison. He vehemently stated that he would expect the private prison to pay the whole cost as he would not put any charitable funding towards work in a private business.

    So there’s some backup your warnings, Lady Eff.

  5. Really pleased to see your letter in today’s Independent. This stuff rearing its ugly head again… a warning that it won’t go away.


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