You must be joking


The Sunday Times revealed that a Tory insider says that they have not ruled out state schools being run for profit. Really?

 Looking though at their education team it is hard to see who would be happy for state schools to make a profit.

They understand the logic and rationale, but it’s the politics that are hugely problematic for Tories, who at times appear to be driven more about concerns about whom they might offend than by issues of principle. There is nothing wrong in principle or practice with state schools making a profit,  providing it is within a robust regulatory environment and the model they endlessly seek to emulate, in Sweden, does precisely that . So too do most Charter Schools in the States which are impacting positively in disadvantaged areas. So far, the Tories have insisted they would not let private firms join, partly for fear of being portrayed as “right-wing ideologues” by Labour. Again the Tories seem so sensitive about  the possibility of  offending this  or that vested  interest,  that it can sometimes  be very hard to determine where they stand, or indeed  where  they will choose to  make a stand and on what important matter of  principle. The Tories have at some point got to establish that they are not simply a marginally more robust version of Blairs  pragmatic New Labour, other wise voters might stick with Labour,  or look for other alternatives (The Lib Dems are  exploiting this situation )

 The Tories have belatedly wised up to the fact that if they want to meet their ambitions to  open up  3,000  new schools, a   plan  modelled on a Swedish system, they will need the support of the private sector both in terms of its expertise but also its capital . What has driven the Swedish model is profit making chains of schools, which use their profits to finance further expansion and to up-scale success. Very few shareholders will be interested in investing in enterprises with no return unless it is part of a firms charitable arm and then the scope is by definition very  limited. Tories are right to be concerned that too few voluntary bodies will come forward to set up these schools. Those who might be interested are already involved in Academies and new school trusts but do not have the resources or incentives to up-scale their commitment. Those involved also note that  that there are no financial  incentives to get more involved, particularly against the backdrop of an on-going recession. The insider quoted by the Sunday Times said “We are considering whether private companies should be allowed to join the scheme…we have not made a final decision.” Among organisations that would be interested is Civitas, the conservative think tank, which runs private schools with fees of about £5,000 a year. Investors in Civitas can make profits, but the size of the dividend is carefully limited.


Some Labour politicians have also begun to talk about radical reform of the school system.  We have heard from Alan Milburn. James Purnell, the former work and pensions secretary, who is seen as a key  party thinker and moderniser said last week: “If allowing state schools to be run by profit-making companies encourages equality of capability, we will have to allow it.” Frankly this is a pipedream. The Labour Party allowing profit making state schools? I think not. Even a bruising electoral defeat would not result in any such fundamental sea change in policy. But heck, if you are launching your new career why not indulge yourself with some kite flying?



  1. The education system certainly seems to be creaky and in need of reform at times, which is part of what makes it such fertile ground for discussion. My blog, at, may be of interest to anyone looking for up-to-the-minute discussion of education issues and how they affect home tuition.

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