Then they came for our Schools...private companies line up to take over state education

The Coalition Government has been running into huge political opposition to its attempts to marketise and privatise parts of the NHS. But meanwhile they have actually started to do this to schools and nobody appears to have noticed. An article in the Observer this weekend called State schools hover on the brink of huge private sector revolution seems to have woken up quite a few people.

As this blog has reported a free school is to open in Brandon in Suffolk when the Breckland Middle School closes later this year. This school is to be run by a Swedish company who are going to make a profit. They are even calling the school after the company. It will be known as "IES Brandon".

The way this has happened involved smoke and mirrors. There was a  local school group called "SABRES" who are a group of parents who set out trying to save Breckland Middle School from closure. Matthew Hancock, local Tory MP and other politicians began to "help" the group. They got to go to London, meet the Secretary of State, got their name in the papers. As the group lacked the expertise to actually manage a school themselves they were convinced by the said politicians that they needed to tender for "experienced" companies to run the school.

The group are assured that it them that will be really running the school but in reality they will have far less control over the school than the Governors of the Middle School it will replace had. The name of the school tells you who is running it. This is in effect a contract between the Secretary of State and the company IES. The local Governors seem to be there for appearances more than anything else. But this trick allows the DfE to claim that the school is not profit making as the local founders make no money from it.

Maybe the group think that this is how schools are usually opened. They certainly don't give the impression of understanding that they are effectively taking part in an experiment. But the company IES are more aware of the risks. Their UK Manager Jodie King told the Observer:
"It is awful, but we kind of have to accept failure more than we do at the moment. So if a school does fail because of its results, then that is right that it should fail – it should not be kept going at all costs. Yes, it is awful at that time for that year group, but surely the next year will be better for them rather than saying we are going to forsake the next five years of that child's education. So if there is an awful company out there, then they should be allowed to fail and then someone else can take over."
I am not sure if they included this in their pitch to run the Brandon Free School. Probably not.

A market as King points out requires failure to work. Bad business fail and are replaced by better ones. It is interesting that King picks up on what is so wrong with this model when it comes to schools. The damage done to the children going to the school whilst it is being allowed to fail.

And in some areas, Suffolk in particular, there is simply not enough "competition" for this model to work even if it was desirable. It will become like the train line I simply have to use to get to work. Run by whatever private company happens to win the contract. I don't have any "choice".

There are plenty of people, such as James Croft from  the Centre for Market Reform of Education who see nothing wrong with profit, writing in a blog post he says:
the profit motive attracts investment. It puts private capital to work in productive ways, incentivising efficient management of resources and consistent delivery of quality outcomes, so that learners are not lost to competitors. Any profit generated, or capital gain, is new wealth, which may be invested in expanding the benefits of the services provided to new customers.
And a public service ethos? Apparently this is not needed:
these advantages do not depend on people being especially public-spirited. All that is required is sensible business decisions and standards may be raised.
And to be honest I have not seen any evidence of "investment" by the private sector. The capital costs for Breckland for example are being paid for by the DfE not IES. They seem to be able to take the profit without putting up any of the capital.

Neoliberals believe that everything is best run by the market and that competition will invariably deliver better quality. They believe that this model is true for everything in life. And nothing seems too important to fail. Except of course large banks....

The privatisations of the last Tory Government have had mixed success. The railways probably represent the worst and clearly demonstrate that running something to make a profit does not guarantee a good service. As it is a combination of ancient rolling stock, inadequate investment in the infrastructure and poor customer service makes the experience deeply unpleasant and the fact someone is actually making money out of it just adds insult to injury. They certainly don't deserve to.

So they are coming for our schools now. Local schools that have been managed locally for a hundred years or more in many cases. Built by the Church or by the local council for the public good. Built out of the belief that education is a right for all, that it is something special and important. That bringing up children and educating them is something unique not just another business.

They say a village dies when it looses its pub but the loss of its school is worse. A school is an integral part of the local community, part of what binds people together.

So when they come for our schools we should tell them that they are not for sale. That some things are too important to fail. Too precious to be measured in pounds and pence. We must wake up and stop this happening before it is too late and our local schools are stolen from us to make money for the few.
IES Breckland 552303203794500069

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