Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education

The vetoing of Tory plans for free schools to become profit-making marks out coalition dividing lines and the ideological battle over education at the next election.

Today’s reports Nick Clegg has successfully vetoed Tory plans for free schools to become profit-making mark out both the current battles within the coalition and the ideological battle over education policy at the next election.


The Guardian today claims Tory education secretary Michael Gove had hoped to allow free schools to make profits in the government’s second term and quotes a supporter of Gove as saying:

“Gove has never had an ideological issue with profit in schools, whereas Clegg is ruling it out for ideological reasons.”

Meanwhile, Fraser Nelson writes in the Spectator that some of David Cameron’s allies are:

“…keen to fit rocket boosters under the free schools programme – and that means including profit-seeking groups like Cognita and International Free Schools.”

If Nick Clegg does indeed have a ‘victory’ in blocking the proposal it will be one of the deputy prime minister’s most significant achievement in office. More significantly, the cat is now out of the bag on free schools: the Tories do see free schools as a vehicle to turn schooling into business. What is surprising is that people ever doubted this.

For free schools to be anything other than an expensive fad, with just a handful of schools run by charities, parents or as publicity seeking exercises for the likes of Toby Young, it is logical they would have to become profit-making. Michael Gove’s free schools policy was based on the free schools programme in Sweden, where the government’s initial plan was that free schools would either be set up by parents or charities.

This created only a small number of new schools. The growth in school numbers came when businesses were allowed to provide schooling on a for-profit basis. According to academic research, five out of every six free schools have made profits of over half a billion krona (£40m). Meanwhile, two companies – the Internationella Engelska Skolan and Kunskapsskolan – have come to dominate the Swedish free schools market.

The uber right-wing Adam Smith Institute has at least been candid enough to argue that free schools won’t work unless they become commercialised.

In a paper published in April urging the government to lift its ban on businesses setting up free schools, it said:

“While the enthusiasm of not-for-profit innovators was important at the beginning, that idealism and drive petered out over time, giving way to more sustainable commercial interests.”

The concept of free schools established by parents or charities is, as it stands, questionable. There is little academic research suggesting they have dramatically increased education standards in Sweden. Most evidence suggests children from well-educated families gain the most. Surprise, surprise. Even then, though, the improvements are minor, while the effect on children from families with a low level of education is non-existent.

Free school students are no more likely to go on to university than students from the state sector.

However, allowing free schools to become operated by businesses as profit-making businesses themselves is the thin end of the wedge. The iniquity is that schools would be receiving government money for each student and if a school got into financial difficulties and the operating company chose to close it, the state would be expected to pick up the tab. Any profits would, needless to say, go to private shareholders.

Like the bank crisis, allowing free schools to be profit-making would mean privatising the profit and socialising the loss.

But the Tories clearly see free schools as a ruse to create another tier of the private sector in education and will attempt to create hundreds of free schools seeking profits out of government money if they win the next election. Progressives across the UK should line up to campaign for schools to be about teaching children and not about profits.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

35 Responses to “Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education”

  1. CAROLE JONES

    Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education: http://t.co/RmMJUPn writes Ben Fox

  2. Alex Braithwaite

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education http://t.co/BJ279IU

  3. Political Planet

    Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education: The vetoing of Tory plans for free sc… http://t.co/KzeTiHp

  4. HullRePublic

    Commercialisation of education? RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of battle to save state education: http://t.co/dqIcjI4

  5. Sir Fred de Malagasy

    Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education: http://t.co/RmMJUPn writes Ben Fox

  6. EDUBEAT

    Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education | Left Foot Forward: Clegg’s win on ‘f… http://t.co/R44k1oI

  7. Helen Thomas

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education http://t.co/p4KZu8T

  8. Free Money

    Clegg's win on 'free schools' start of the battle to save state education: However, allowing free schools to bec… http://t.co/TEkwbj7

  9. Pucci Dellanno

    Free schools are profitable for owners, but if they go bust state picks up tab. Southern Cross again? MT @leftfootfwd http://t.co/jMctcqh

  10. H. O.

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education http://t.co/CPVxFQL

  11. links for 2011-09-04 « Adam Englebright

    […] Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education […]

  12. Dave Citizen

    Prof. David Harvey gives a clear explanation of the forces driving the attempts to privatise education, health and any other public service ‘safe investments’ in “The Enigma of Capital”.

    If we want a prosperous society we need to be able to select talent from a well educated whole population not from a tiny pool of kids with well-off parents. No wonder we’re doing so badly!

    Let’s do the right thing and nationalise education so every child gets to commpete in a school that’s got as much or as little resources to play with as the next – then we’ll see those rotting portacabins fixed, teachers pay go up and the real talent find its way to the top for once.

  13. Miguel Angel Escotet

    UK: Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education http://t.co/x0wqocF #education

  14. Miguel Angel Escotet

    UK: Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education http://t.co/7HLztVk #education

  15. Mr. Sensible

    Nice to see Clegg doing something useful for once…

  16. Splintered Sunrise

    @dolphinmaria Look at this http://t.co/IhJgrZp and then @toadmeister on the same subject.

  17. Jane Ayres

    RT @leftfootfwd Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ starts battle to save state education http://t.co/iPi1zJo (Ben Fox) < like.

  18. Knut Cayce

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education http://t.co/tkWvc9s

  19. Free Money

    Clegg's win on 'free schools' start of the battle to save state …: However, allowing free schools to become op… http://t.co/WO3tzZx

  20. Nick Clegg calls on parents to take responsibility – Telegraph.co.uk | Live Newsline

    […] officers. …Nick Clegg says that modern Britain expects too much from teachersThe GuardianClegg's win on 'free schools' start of the battle to save state educationLeft Foot Forwardall 75 news […]

  21. Nick Clegg rules out running free schools for profit – BBC News | Live Newsline

    […] too much from teachersThe GuardianNick Clegg calls on parents to take responsibilityTelegraph.co.ukClegg's win on 'free schools' start of the battle to save state educationLeft Foot Forwardall 121 news […]

  22. Clegg rejects free school profits – BBC News | Live Newsline

    […] too much from teachersThe GuardianNick Clegg calls on parents to take responsibilityTelegraph.co.ukClegg's win on 'free schools' start of the battle to save state educationLeft Foot Forwardall 127 news […]

  23. robert the crip

    Problem is of course we have no real party to vote for to fight this, Labour would not close free schools and I suspect they’d carry on with them, if they look good, perhaps we need the SNP to enter into Politics within the rest of the UK.

  24. links for 2011-09-05 « Adam Englebright

    […] Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education […]

  25. Gove’s ‘for profit’ free schools lust overlooks warning signs from US | Left Foot Forward

    […] news that education secretary Michael Gove would have no qualms allowing free schools to be operated by […]

  26. Consumer

    http://t.co/EOmXGZL @LouiseMensch @grantshapps @BristolRed any thoughts on this? #tories just want to turn schools into money machines.

  27. nathan eastwood

    Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/GClZONG

  28. links for 2011-09-06 « Adam Englebright

    […] Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education […]

  29. links for 2011-09-07 « Adam Englebright

    […] Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education […]

  30. links for 2011-09-08 « Adam Englebright

    […] Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education […]

  31. links for 2011-09-09 « Adam Englebright

    […] Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education […]

  32. links for 2011-09-10 « Adam Englebright

    […] Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education […]

  33. links for 2011-09-11 « Adam Englebright

    […] Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education […]

  34. links for 2011-09-12 « Adam Englebright

    […] Clegg’s win on ‘free schools’ start of the battle to save state education […]

Leave a Reply