8 June 2010

Before the election the Conservatives promised to creaate a new generation of independently run state schools. They said:

  • We will make it much easier for educational charities, groups of parents and teachers, cooperatives and others to start new Academies (independent, non-selective state schools). We will move to a national per pupil funding system, so that new schools get paid if they attract pupils, with extra funding for the poorest pupils (a pupil premium).


  • A Conservative government will give every child the kind of education that is currently available only to the well-off: safe classrooms, talented and specialist teachers, access to the best curriculum and exams, and smaller schools with smaller classes and teachers who know the children’s names.

Recent Developments.


The new UK coalition government has announced that it will allow parents, teachers and charities to set up their own schools in England along the “free schools” model of Sweden. These schools will be privately run, but publicly funded. The plan also opens up state schools to be operated by for-profit companies. Trevor Cobbold of SOS Canberra has some interesting research on the situation on the Save Our Schools website.

He notes that while English law prohibits commercial operators taking over schools, they could provide teaching and other services to the new schools. There is nothing to stop school governors inviting commercial firms to operate state schools. Indeed, the US company Edison already operates one school in north London.

Several for-profit companies are already lining up to take advantage of the scheme. Global Management Education Systems (Gems), a company based in the United Arab Emirates that already runs 12 UK private schools, aspires to run state-funded schools in England. Anders Hultin, chief executive of Gems, said: “We are exploring opportunities right now, supporting groups of parents. That’s a natural starting point.” [ The Guardian, 25 May]

Gems is not alone. Edison, the largest provider of state-funded private schools in the US, envisages running several academies. Kunskapsskolan, which runs 30 state-funded schools in Sweden, plans to sponsor two new academies, in Richmond, south London, and Suffolk.

The new Government’s plan draws on the Swedish “free schools” model introduced in the early 1990s which allowed new schools to be set up that are independent of government control. A variety of educational providers stepped in, ranging from non-profit co-operatives and religious groups to for-profit corporations. These organisations are now running schools funded with public money through a voucher system.

The changes were introduced to provide greater choice for parents unable to afford the fees for Sweden’s small private school sector. They were based on the free-market principle that competition and choice would raise standards in all schools as government schools would be forced to improve student achievement so as to maintain enrolments.

“Free schools” now account for just over 40 per cent of the 945 upper secondary schools in Sweden and about 15% of schools teaching younger children. About 20 per cent of Swedish students attend these independent schools in the upper secondary sector. In larger urban areas such as Stockholm, half of all students attend independent schools.

There is strong evidence is that the Swedish “free school” model has failed to improve student achievement. Far from improving school results, the evidence is that student outcomes in Sweden have declined since the reforms to its education systems were introduced. The performance of its 15-year-olds has slipped steadily in international comparisons, its measures of social mobility and equity have declined, and it now lags behind other Nordic countries, having led them for decades

In England the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has consistently opposed the private academies. Where Academies have been proposed the NUT has campaigned against their establishment whilst working hard to best support our members working in them. This work willcontinue. However, the threat is now even greater. The coalition government is rushing legislation through Parliament which removes the need for governing bodies to consult with anyone before applying to becoming an academy.

Jon Trickett MP has kindly tabled an Early Day Motion on the Bill. The Motion highlights the lack of consultation in the proposals and NUT hope many MPs will support it. The following is the content of this motion.





Trickett, Jon

That this House notes with serious concern and rejects the Secretary of State for Education's proposals to expand the number of academies by conferring on all school governing bodies the right for their school to become an Tacademy without proper consultation with parents, school staff or the local authority; notes the Secretary of State for Education's recent invitation to all schools deemed outstanding to become academies; and believes these plans will result in further disadvantage to already disadvantaged children and families, and raise fundamental issues such as loss of local democratic accountability, excessive cost, lack of fairness and administrative confusion.

Given the manner in which the Lib-Labs in Australia follow English educational precedent and the current ideological mantra that ‘private is best’, Australian public school supporters should be both aware and wary of developments in the UK, and oppose copy cat measures.




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