Not a recipe to privatise state schools ,but profit makers could have a role with not for profits in rescuing failing schools
James O’Shaughnessy, formerly a key adviser to David Cameron, now supporting Anthony Seldon in the expansion of the Wellington family of schools, (and working for Portland PR part time), says, in a new Policy Exchange report’ ‘Competition meets Collaboration’ that Ofsted’s new, tougher inspections could lead to a fivefold increase in the number of schools being told they need to improve. To deal with this seam of chronic weakness in England’s schools he recommends that a new failure regime – based on Ofsted’s new ‘three strikes and you’re out’ inspection regime – should be introduced to turn around the weakest schools:
On the first occasion of receiving a ‘requirement to improve’ the school is obliged to become an Academy under a new sponsor
On the second occasion, the Academy is obliged to join a successful chain. An Academy chain is a group of three or more independent state-funded schools with a shared educational vision, and which are bound together legally, financially and operationally
On the third and final occasion, the governing body is obliged to hand over the running of the school to a proven educational management organisation (EMO) which would operate the school on a payment by results basis. EMOs are private or not-for-profit providers that run schools under contract to a commissioner, such as a governing body or local authority.
Academies and particularly Academies which are part of a Chain are improving outcomes, according to the most recent evidence ,and so are well placed to assist failing schools.
The media, of course, spun this story rather differently, along the lines that a former top Cameron adviser wants profit makers to run state schools. Small wonder that debates on education are so polarised if the media rather too frequently, for the sake of an eye catching headline, mislead their audience and fail to provide context or to properly report the key findings of reports. Straw men spring to mind.Needless to say the opposition recycled this skewed view. What he is actually saying is that profit makers should be allowed in the supply mix, but after other options have been tried. In short, if turning a school into an academy and then handing it on to a chain haven’t been enough to break the cycle of underachievement, says O Shaughnessy, the governing body should be obliged to appoint an external provider to run it. The school and its assets would stay in the charitable sector, but they would be able to access the expertise of private providers who would be paid by results. Not for profits and state enterprises could also be in the mix. This hardly amounts to privatisation or for profit operators taking over the state system.
This new failure regime, he says, would be applied by a beefed up Office of the Schools Commissioner (OSC) and a network of new local school commissioners, themselves appointed and overseen by the OSC.
Education management organisations, operating under sharp, performance-based contracts that offer much greater improvement incentives than the funding agreements currently being signed with academies’, should be brought in if the Academy route fails. He concludes that ‘ it is absurd and counter-productive to prevent, for purely ideological reasons, successful school improvement businesses from turning around those schools with have proved resistant to other interventions’. Who could argue with that?
Competition Meets Collaboration -Helping school chains address England’s long tail of educational failure James O’Shaughnessy-Policy Exchange