Will we get for-profit schools?


Cameron and Gove have fleshed out their education policy a little, and I have to say, I’m not quite as excited about it as James Forsyth over at the Spectator. There are a couple of useful announcements, but if this is what the manifesto will look like, then one thing stands out that should worry any parent lacking the spare change to send little Johnny to Eton: We will not be getting new for-profit schools.

In the Draft Education Manifesto it is explicitly stated on page seven that the new academies will be run by “charities, parent and teacher groups, trusts, voluntary groups and co-operatives." The 'radical' Conservative education policy wouldn’t be so radical without education companies. This draft manifesto claims to be “[d]rawing on the experience of the Swedish school reforms and the charter school movement in the USA", but in both instances for-profit schools are both an option, and I would argue, vital for their proven success.

If Cameron and Gove really are to give every parent access to a good school (as they claim), then unleashing competition into this shackled marketplace is vital. Without the profit motive and all the attendant drivers for excellence, a great part of the radical reform will be left in the paddock. But surely Cameron and Gove don’t need to be told that, why else were they busy championing the Conservative cause when Margaret Thatcher was busy liberalising huge swathes of the economy from the dead hand of the state in the 1980s?

I hope to be proved wrong on this point. Last year Frazer Nelson – who has incidentally done an excellent job with the Spectator – suggested that Gove’s schools would be run for a profit. At the time it appeared that he was privy to information that likely future Prime Minister had accepted the logic of Anders Hultin – an architect of the Swedish government’s voucher system – that profit was the key to success in Swedish schools. We will see...