SCHOOLS AND THE PROFIT MOTIVE
Profit motive vital to Swedish reforms and benefits all children regardless of background according to a new report
Without profit motive could free school reforms here fail?
A new report from the IEA- Schooling for Money: Swedish Education Reform and the Role of the Profit Motive; Gabriel H. Sahlgren ;December 2010- finds that contrary to recent claims that they cause social division and are of little benefit to the most disadvantaged pupils the evidence is that Swedish free schools have the opposite effect. Data shows that For-profit schools benefit students from all socio-economic backgrounds. Indeed they produce the largest benefits for students from less privileged backgrounds. What is more, school competition in Sweden has increased levels of educational achievement and free schools enjoy higher levels of parental satisfaction than government (municipal) schools. The schools also benefit teachers, helping to improve their working conditions. With the Gove reforms suffering from a lack of funding there are some lessons for us perhaps from Sweden. The profit motive provides strong incentives for entrepreneurs to enter the schools market and to expand their businesses. In a warning to the Coalition Government, the report claims that banning for-profit schools risks dramatically reducing the number of free schools that are created, thereby limiting the benefits of competition. The report states ‘.. implications for the Lib-Con coalition are discussed. Since the Swedish voucher reform has been successful overall, it is argued that the coalition should move forward with its free schools policy. However, the ban on for-profit schools must be revoked. Contrary to doomsday predictions, the profit motive has not led to a search for quick returns at the expense of educational quality. Instead, it has been essential to the increase in competition per se. The implication is clear – without the profit motive, the UK’s reforms may fail.’ IEA says ‘The case of Sweden shows that increasing the supply of new schools to create sufficient competition in the system to raise standards requires encouraging schools to start up with a profit motive, yet at present this is being excluded by the coalition. In Sweden during 2008/2009 13% of schools were for-profit, while only 6% were non-profit schools. If England encouraged for-profit schools we could see a similar take up which could mean around 3,200 new schools.’
Recent research from the IOE on Sweden’s ‘free school’ reforms suggests that the entry of new schools had a positive effect on pupils’ academic achievements, certainly initially.
It would be wrong to overstate the impact of free schools, and Shalgren doesn’t but it is also wrong to assert, as some do, that there is robust evidence that they are socially divisive