Free Schools project to "rescue" private education?

The private Woodbridge School in Suffolk
home of the Seckford Foundation
Whilst researching my article about  MTM Consulting and their role in the Beccles Free School proposal and with the Seckford Foundation who run the independent Woodbridge School I came across some very interesting information.  This sheds some light on the government's free schools policy. This policy is often seen as part of a wider marketisation of schools which appears designed to encourage a more competitive "market" and as a consequence allow certain companies and organisations to profit - even if this profit isn't redistributed to shareholders.

But there seems to be more to it than this. The Government has several times suggested that independent schools should sponsor and run state schools. In September the BBC report that Cameron wants his old school which is of course Eton to run a state school:
"The truth is the problem has been not enough good school places in our anyone who can play a role in that - private schools included - is welcome through my door to talk about how we drive up standards. 
Yes, I would like all private schools to engage in this agenda and if you look at most private schools many of them already run bursaries for children from less well - off backgrounds and partnering state schools...To me all private schools have always had a charitable foundation, a charitable purpose, and that's a great way to deliver that"
And speaking to the Conservative party conference Cameron spoke of his desire to end the "apartheid" between state and private schools:
I want to see private schools start Academies, and sponsor Academies in the state system. Wellington College does it, Dulwich does it – others can too. The apartheid between our private and state schools is one of the biggest wasted opportunities in our country today. So let it be this party that helps tear it down. Rigour back in learning. Standards back in schools. Teachers back in control.
Now all of this is presented as private schools "helping" state schools but what I am going to suggest is that actually it is the other way round. The state sector is being brought in to rescue private education.

Back before the General Election in March 2010 Independent School Magazine published some very interesting articles. Underneath an article about Gove's plans for free schools - described at this point as "independent state schools funded by taxpayers" or "the Swedish Model" is an article about the decline in Swedish private education:
When it became possible for independent schools to be financed from the public, the number of fee-schools dropped. Most parents found it more attractive that a school was financed by the public than the parents having to pay for their children’s education.

There are just a few fee-schools in the country today. I would describe them as upper-secondary boarding- schools with an international direction/profile.
This is quite striking as the article above it says that in 2007-8 around 9% of swedish children attended fee paying schools.

The same issue has an article from MTM Consulting's Melanie Tucker who is one of the four people behind the Beckles Free School bid who makes several predications for the future of private education, one of these is:
Prediction 2: This will be the decade of entrepreneurs

External forces, in particular the effects of much tighter budgets in the public sector, will create opportunities for independent schools to be more entrepreneurial. Schools which are prepared to add to or amend what they offer – provide access courses, top-up activities, open new style schools, even be involved with free schools – will be able to take these opportunities.
This is developed further by Melanie in a Blogpost entitled The School's Revolution: What is the Impact?
The upshot? The academy and free school programme will be a real driver of structural change in the schools market, impacting on all education providers. This will be given momentum by parental and public opinion no longer tolerant of “bog standard schools”, particularly given the requirements of universities and employers for qualifications and core skills that will add value to their children’s careers.
I reported on my Blog that the Seckford Foundation that run the independent Woodbridge School have made a £2 million loss over the last 6 years. It is notable that 2010 accounts see this as largely due to falling numbers at the £13000 a year school:
The net loss for the year after tax and realised losses on investment assets is £543,610 (2009: £244,835) this reflects the fall in income as a result of the reduced numbers in the school; down from 983 in 2009 to 929 in 2010
So the Seckford Foundations involvement in free schools makes a lot of sense from their point of view. They are taking the "opportunity" to move into this emerging market as their core business of Woodbridge school is declining.

Indeed the whole free school policy - "the swedish model" seems at least in part designed to ensure that private schools that have been hit hard by the recession are "rescued". In some cases as in Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire they converting to become free schools, much to the delight of one parent who remarked that it was like "winning the lottery" as they no longer needed to pay the £9000 a year fees. Batley Grammar Headteacher Brigid Tuille told the Guardian her reasons:
The reason we started looking at things like academies and free schools in the first place was because we were undersubscribed … there just wasn't a fee-paying population in the local area and the demand for bursaries and financial assistance was increasing phenomenally.
Back in Suffolk the Seckford Foundation have taken a different approach keeping Woodbridge as fee paying but looking to open a chain of at least four free schools across the County. In doing so they may save themselves but the question is will this be at the expense of several existing Suffolk state schools?
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