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"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice" - Adam Smith

New at Does the profit motive hurt school quality?

Written by James Croft | Friday 09 December 2011

Opponents of the idea that schools should be owned and operated by businesses for profit often claim that such can only come at the expense of quality. Until relatively recently, advocates of the model have had to base their argument on case study evidence, mainly of the performance of proprietorially owned chains. However, system-wide studies are now beginning to emerge and it is worth bringing these to wider attention.

In the US, the most noteworthy study of the for-profit effect has been undertaken by Hill and Welsh, who used school-level data to compare for-profit and non-profit charter schools in Michigan. A four year panel of data was constructed (2001-02 to 2004-05) , with all Michigan charter schools which had students taking either the required 4th and/or the 8th grade state level math exam, referred to as MEAP scores (Michigan Educational Assessment program), included in the analysis. A random effects model was employed, controlling for student and district characteristics. The results were published as ‘For-profit versus not-for-profit charter schools: an examination of Michigan test scores’ (Education Economics, 2008), with the authors concluding that they could find no evidence to suggest that the type of ownership of a charter school (profit or not‐for‐profit) affects the delivery of education services either way.

Read this article.

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Think piece: The folly of the public benefit test

Written by James Croft | Thursday 26 May 2011

The "public benefit test" is a misguided attempt to force consolidation in the independent education market, argues James Croft.

This week the long running dispute between the Independent Schools Council (ISC) and the Charity Commission moves towards a conclusion in the courts. While Robert Pearce’s comments on Friday will come as a disappointment to association members hoping for clarity on the question of how schools may meet the new public benefit requirement, I can’t help but think that the issue has become little more than a distracting side-show.

The government has already made it quite clear that the Chair of the Commission must desist or be relieved her responsibilities; a future resumption of her unsuccessful attempts to force consolidation in the sector was always unlikely. In so far as the foray was the brainchild of Labour policymakers, the announcement on Friday that the Commission’s programme of assessments ‘is at an end’ and that irrespective of the outcome of the case ‘the commission intends to review the guidance in the light of its experience of its use’ comes as no surprise either: while politically useful in pacifying interests on the left of the party, this aspect of Labour’s policy excursion into the charitable sector has been far from successful in policy terms. [Continue reading]

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Think piece: Free Schools are heading for failure

Written by James Croft | Wednesday 11 May 2011

schoolSo now it’s official: of the 323 free school proposals received by the DfE as of 11th February, 282 were turned down. Less than 50 were given an amber light. It looks likely that roughly ten will open their gates in September. The century of civil servants seconded to process applications can breathe a sigh of relief and go back to whatever it was they were doing before they were so rudely interrupted, for it’s unlikely under the strictures of the new applications process that for 2012 there will be anything like the volume of the first tranche.

With the programme’s capital allocation for the first two years long since exhausted, and the government reluctant to enlist the help of SMBs and private equity backed chains, fewer of these proposals for 2012 can realistically be expected to make it through its new competitive tendering stage. While the Chancellor’s Budget Day announcement that the proposed reforms to local planning process weren’t quite dead in the water offers a glimmer of hope on the horizon, the free school initiative nevertheless seems already to have become the ‘niche programme’ that Rachel Wolf feared it might.

Much as we might wish to think otherwise, this has serious implications for the government’s wider schools reform platform: most especially in respect of its hopes of efficiency gains through school closure. The idea was that by freeing up new school supply, while at the same time rationalising existing management structures through Academy expansion, the government might also be enabled to tackle more proactively the problem of persistent under-performance, at its most acute in areas where deprivation is greatest. But without new schools coming on stream in numbers, the threat of closure rings hollow, and one of the most important mechanisms for turning around these schools doesn’t work as it should. [Continue reading]

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The importance of a sense of privilege in education

Written by James Croft | Wednesday 04 May 2011


In DfE statistics released last week on standards of pupil behaviour in state-maintained schools, nationally 91.7 per cent of schools were judged good or outstanding in 2010 inspections: Christopher Cook of the FT concludes from this that ‘behaviour doesn’t appear to be a problem’. This, of course, depends on which way you look at it. The DfE’s statistics show that nearly 2,000 schools inspected failed to meet the standard; the behaviour of pupils at these schools was judged to be merely satisfactory, which, in DfE speak, means the opposite.

My examination of Ofsted 162A inspections of independent proprietorial schools (PDF) offers a startling comparison. On this measure proprietorial schools charging fees less than or on a par with the national average per pupil spend in the state-sector, 97.84% were judged good to outstanding. Unlike the majority of independent schools, these schools are non-selective and, with fees at the most accessible end of the spectrum, often include a high proportion of first-time buyers of independent education. This would seem to bear out James Tooley’s thesis that pupils’ awareness of the cost of their education, the sacrifices their parents are making to enable them to benefit, and of the privilege, leads them to value their education in a way that they would not otherwise. This ‘stake’, or sense of investment, also works to keep parents on board too.

Interestingly, these schools also outperformed the ‘all independent school’ group of which they are a subset (including all charitable trust schools) on the quality of provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development: 93.53% were judged good to outstanding, as against 80% overall. For-profit schools at the lower end of the fee spectrum appear to be more strongly values-led, and more attentive to the needs of the whole child, than charitable trust schools. Far from undermining performance, the need to make a profit appears to focus minds on the quality of educational outcomes.

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