“Nick Clegg defeats bid by Michael Gove to let free schools make profits”

From today’s Observer:

Nick Clegg has thwarted plans by the education secretary, Michael Gove, to allow the new generation of “free schools” to make profits in the state sector after a massive ideological battle over the coalition’s education policy…

Clegg’s aides say he has also persuaded Gove to amend the admissions code from 2013 to allow free schools and academies to give priority to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (those on free school meals). Free schools and academies will be expected to do all they can to ensure that, as a minimum, they have the same amount of pupils on free school meals as the local average.

In a third move, Clegg has won a guarantee from Gove that all of the free schools set up in the next wave will either be in deprived areas or areas in need of more places. Many of the schools in the first wave are being set up in middle-class areas where critics say there is no proven need for extra places…

In a speech to teachers, parents and students, Clegg will say he is in favour of free schools, but will add: “I want them to be available to the whole community – open to all children and not just the privileged few. I want them to be part of a school system that releases opportunity, rather than entrenching it.

“They must not be the preserve of the privileged few, creaming off the best pupils while leaving the rest to fend for themselves, causing problems for and draining resources from other nearby schools. So let me give you my assurance: I would never tolerate that.”

You can read the full story here.

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29 Comments

  • If he had, in addition, prevented the bribes that are being given to ‘free’ schools then I would actually be impressed by him.

  • Dave Thawley 4th Sep '11 - 12:15pm

    after a year and a half Clegg has actually done something worth while. Shame he has wrecked the party and let the tories do what they want before this (and most probably be after this) so credit where credit is due. Good things 1: bad things 1000. At least he is catching up.

  • Paul Pettinger 4th Sep '11 - 1:10pm

    Guido is right Mark, the Conservatives would not be allowing free schools to make a profit had they a majority and have ruled this out previously.
    If we wanted proper scrutiny of the Govt’s education policies we could ask why are the Liberal Democrats supporting the creation of free schools and academies in Govt, even though the Party is opposed to them and new academies massively concentrate power with pre-existing governors, not empower teachers or parents. We could also ask why are new Academy faith schools able to teach instructional RE and discriminate in the selection of their pupils and teachers on religious grounds; why the Govt continually refuses to require schools to teach age appropriate sex education, despite widespread support from across the political spectrum, educationalists, parents and pupils; why do they want to down grade the teaching of Citizenship, as well and down play the arts, RE and vocational qualifications through the E Bacc (weren’t we supposed to reduce central targets, rather than replace old ones with new ones?).
    Education is social engineering for Liberals and it is devastating that education policy has almost entirely been surrendered to the Conservative right.

  • David Allen 4th Sep '11 - 1:57pm

    Of course, the way the private sector plans to get its foot in the door of state services is to begin by appealing to the poor and disadvantaged, and to begin with non-profit deals. Once the idea of privatisation has taken hold, there is plenty of time to move onward into middle-class areas and drop the non-profit restrictions. Thus, Labour helped the private sector pioneer the academies concept in poor areas, and now the Tories are helping the private sector expand more widely.

    The Observer also say:

    “Sources close to Gove admitted last night that the education secretary had been hoping to allow free schools, which are set up by local people but still funded by the state, to make profits in the second term of a Tory-led government.”

    Well, no doubt Gove is happy to maintain that hope, ready to implement it after 2015, when those pesky Lib Dems have either been thrown out of government, or else knuckled under, the way too many Lib Dems tend to do….

    Meanwhile, Mark Pack has been quick to quote the article on the Observer page 6, but he hasn’t yet published anything about the Lib Dem – Shirley Williams – who leads today’s Observer front page:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/sep/03/shirley-williams-nhs-reforms-turmoil

    I wonder why!

  • Simon McGrath 4th Sep '11 - 1:58pm

    Why on earth would it matter I’d they did make a profit? What should matter is the quality of the education

  • On the subject of free schools, it looks as if those that have been established thus far are to be run by right-wing ideologues and religious conservatives. They will be able to do things (such as extend the school day) that the teachings unions will not permit (and prevented Blair from doing). What the children will be taught remains to be seen, but I am not hopeful.

    Now to the claim that preventing free schools from making a profit is the only occasion on which Nick Clegg has stood up to Cameron. Not quite. Not nearly quite. Nick Clegg was forced by his membership to delay Lansley’s blueprint for the stealth privatisation of the NHS (aka the Health & Social Care Bill), and he has made it clear that his MPs will not agree to the repeal of the Human Rights Act, and will not agree to tax cuts for the rich.

    The Parliamentary Party may be propping up a right-wing Tory government, and has certainly given up its independence and sacrificed a few principles in so doing, but it is not true to say that Nick Clegg and his team have capitulated on all but one occasion.

    What I want to hear from Nick Clegg now is his commitment to oppose the H&SCB in its present form, and an expression of total, implacable opposition to Cameron’s proposals to bring in blanket martial law for young people and forced labour for 16 year-olds. I would also like to hear him excoriate those multi-millionaires who blame the poor for the nation’s ills and claim that those sections of the community outside the economic elite are morally decayed.

    Now that the Tory Party has emerged in its true colours as a party of the authoritarian, social-Darwinist hard right, let’s see how the Parliamentary Party now positions itself.

  • Tony Greaves 4th Sep '11 - 4:17pm

    Well, they are starting to report some of the things we are doing, for a change.

    Tony Greaves

  • @ Simon McGrath

    “Why on earth would it matter I’d they did make a profit? What should matter is the quality of the education”

    Because it has been proved time and time again that when the profit motive is introduced to public services, it is the profit motive that predominates over quality and consistency of provision. That’s why.

    @ Guido Fawkes

    “Nick Clegg has stopped the Tories from doing something they repeatedly promised not to do?”

    Repeated promises mean nothing when they run contrary to the Conservative party’s oft-demonstrated ruling ideology that for-profit organisations are inherently the highest form of economic life.

  • Old Codger Chris 4th Sep '11 - 6:46pm

    Some of Sweden’s free schools are profit-making – I wonder if there’s any evidence to show whether they are worse or better than those that are not. Or whether it appears to make no difference.

    I would question how a publicly funded school could pay a dividend to its backers (shareholders?) unless it either skimped on education or was getting a grossly distorted share of the education budget. Or both. A modest surplus ploughed back into education would be a different matter.

  • Strange that the profit making schools in this country have consistently achieved the highest results with the broadests of curriculums….

  • @Cogload
    “Strange that the profit making schools in this country have consistently achieved the highest results with the broadests of curriculums….”

    Really? Are you comparing like with like? – i.e. comparing profit making schools with state schools that receive the same amount of funding per pupil, have the same assets and have the same admissions policy?

  • Guido’s right, the Conservative Party has repeatedly stated that free schools will not be allowed to be for profit. This “victory” is just a bone that’s been thrown to Clegg. The other moves that appeared in the article are also suspect since they’ve been publicised for some time by the likes of Toby Young. Whether they belong to Clegg or not, this article is certainly spin from someone close to him.

  • @Tony – is that because we are telling them about them though. IE we’ve stopped trying to present the coalition as a blend which was our strategy at one point.

  • Old Codger Chris 5th Sep '11 - 12:15am

    “Strange that the profit making schools in this country have consistently achieved the highest results with the broadests of curriculums….”
    Not that strange. How much money do they have at their disposal? Isn’t it governments that insist on a damagingly narrow National Curriculum for the state sector? Also, some of these profitable schools (not all) are very selective about their intake

    It’s sometimes that forgotten that in Finland – which is often cited as having the very best education system – it’s actually illegal for a school to charge fees. I don’t suggest that for the UK but let’s look at the facts while giving opinions.

  • @Jedibeeftrix
    “Strange that the profit making schools in this country have consistently achieved the highest results with the broadests of curriculums….

    Toby Young has an article on the same topic on the telegraph blogs.”

    I once had an online discussion with Toby Young about the exam results of grammar vs comprehensive schools. He was completely unwilling to acknowledge the fact that selecting the top 20% of pupils by academic ability might have some bearing on the difference in results. Toby Young’s hardly an example of a rational person to be quoting, although he is a fine example of the anti-intellectualism, anti-knowledge, anti-science, anti-evidence based approach of many on the right these days.

    Toby Young is to a discussion on education what James Delingpole is to a discussion on global warming.

  • Why can’t we just end tax breaks for independent schools, or cap them so that such schools cannot obtain more public money per pupil than regular state schools?

  • david thorpe 5th Sep '11 - 5:40pm

    @ guido

    the tories also promised at one time no top down reorganisation of the NHS, but its happening.

    this is the latest in a series of impacts the lib dems are having on the coalition, and the media operation is now smart enough to get it into the papers…..

    it should have been done a long time ago, to show the lib dem victopries on the pupil premium, inheritance tax, tax cuts for the poorest workers, and many miore…and doing all that while having us at 16% in the polls the exact number we were on 12 months after the 2005 election!

  • Why is it that whenever I hear about a Liberal Democrat victory over the Tories, they are boasting about having stopped the Tories from allowing something?

    Why is Clegg boasting about having made sure that fewer free schools will be opened, and in fewer areas? Is this going to be a boast made in the next election campaign: “without us, someone might have opened a new school in your area! Vote for us!”

  • @Tom Papworth
    This paper tends to disagree with your opinions: http://www.llakes.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Wiborg-online.pdf

    From the conclusions:

    English policy-makers and the press have made much of the parallels between the ‘free-school’ type reforms here and the Swedish experiment. In fact they are far from identical and operate in a different context:

    1. The Swedish experiment (using for-profit private providers) has proved expensive and has not led to significant learning gains overall.
    2. At the same time the Swedish reforms, albeit on a small scale, appear to have increased inequality, even in the context of this very egalitarian system.
    3. In the context of a more divided system, similar reforms in England may have more damaging effects on inequality and school segregation.

    On the basis of the Swedish experience, the following questions need to be addressed:

    1. Are parents in England really interested in running schools? Sweden has a limited tradition of this, but England does not, so why would we expect to seea large number of locally run schools in England when this is not even the typical outcome in Sweden? It seems more likely that private education providers will run the schools on a not-for-profit basis, but Sweden is not the best model for this since its experiment has involved for-profit schools.
    2. Should Swedish companies be allowed to run schools in England when they are not able to produce outstanding results?
    3. Is more choice desirable if free schools do not reconcile high academic standards and social integration?
    4. And finally, how can the existing comprehensive schools in England compete on equal terms with the free schools if they are not subject to the same regulation and receive less state funding? Is this fair?

  • @David G
    Good point about the cherrypicking of pupils. The advantage private schools (and free schools) have over the state sector is that they can simply exclude any pupil they don’t like, either through selection or expulsion. State schools do not have this luxury – even if a pupil is expelled then they will just end up in another state education establishment elsewhere. With free schools, state schools will become more like sink schools, taking care of the difficult pupils that are likely to disrupt others’ education and contribute to poor results.

  • @Tom Papworth

    Thanks for the replies.

    I haven’t had a chance to read the report you posted yet. However, the report I posted was from a university research group, whereas the report you posted was from a lobbying group (Institute of Economic Affairs) with a track record of producing highly prejudiced (that always suit their political ideological bent) and risible reports. I’ve never actually read anything from the Institute of Economic Affairs that wasn’t a pile of worthless junk (in objective terms, based on the evidence), but I will endeavour to read the report later when I have some time.

    “This is something the UK government should learn from. Indeed, Anders Hultin, advisor to the 1991-1994 Swedish centre-right government and the architect of the voucher reform”

    How about quoting someone that’s actually looked at the issue objectively, rather than someone with a huge vested interest (and a dodgy lobbying group)?

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