Revealed: The political and profit making agenda of IES Breckland Free School

Were it not for the complete scandal of the “Beccles 37” down the road the new free school in Brandon, IES Breckland might be getting a bit more attention. It is, it would seem, something of an experiment. Run by a UK arm of a profit making Swedish free school company it is to all intents and purposes the first for profit school in the UK.

A paper produced by the right wing think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs argues strongly for free schools to be allowed to make a profit. One chapter is particularly interesting, entitled The Story of a School Entrepreneur it details the history of IES in Sweden written by it founder Barbara Bergstrom.

The chapter details how she set up her chain of free schools in Sweden and to be fair she is completely clear of the political and economic motives she had to do this.

To Bergstrom it is parents not children that are the “customers” for schools.
And those offering new ideas have to be able to reach out to parents as their true ‘customers’, and not be forced to depend upon local school boards, which will almost always throw a wrench into the machinery.
I actually think this is an odd idea. Parents neither pay for directly nor consume state education. Sure they make choices on behalf of or when children are older alongside their children but this in my view is a choice made on behalf of the child. She develops this point even further:
Only with parental choice at the core of the system can you bypass some of the ingrained political correctness, leftist cultures and bureaucratic obstacles which otherwise will inevitably stop you from doing something really innovative – or just applying plain common sense in education. Political ideas and elite cultures tend to cast a very long shadow. Long after modern neurological research, as well as research on school systems, showed the school ‘reformers’ in the wake of 1968 to be dangerously wrong, these same ‘reformers’ still keep a tight grip on the institutions they have conquered – in Sweden, for example, they maintain a tight hold on the national school agencies and on most of the teacher training colleges. Only by placing the full power of choice in the hands of parents, and providing the right to offer alternatives to parents, can you eliminate some of the destructive effects of the established school cultures. Only a full voucher system – based on parental choice and the voucher reimbursement following the student – will achieve this.
So we are left under no illusions of the particular right wing views on education that IES was set up to advance. Small wonder that Tory MP Matthew Hancock and Tory County Councillor Bill Bishop played such a large part in the appointment of IES.

Of course this isn’t what they have been telling parents. Oh no. Continuity with the middle school and avoiding a bus journey to Mildenhall have been the main selling points. To be fair a town the size of Brandon has a reasonable aspiration to have a secondary school but I bet you parents would have been quite happy to have Suffolk CC provide it. Indeed if the Middle school had kept its staff and expanded its age range I am sure they would have been delighted.

I have not heard any parents at all in Brandon championing the importance of crushing “leftish” teaching methodologies from the 60s They have spoken very highly of the teachers IES have discarded when reality struck and not a single teacher was employed from the beloved middle school.

And on profit Bergstrom has this to say:
expansion would not happen without the right to make a profit. The reason for this is twofold: capability and incentive. Only if you have been able to accumulate profits from your first projects are you able to acquire the financial strength to expand.
Expansion is costly, and before you receive any revenues from a new school you must invest a considerable amount. You must hire a principal and a school secretary half a year in advance, to undertake the planning for the new school. There are marketing costs and you must buy furniture, equip- ment, computer systems and books. You have to be able to set up contracts for renovations and buildings, and so on. When we started our real expansion in 2003, not one single contract was accepted by vendors and landlords without the signature and financial stability of the mother company, established through ten years of hard work and accumulated financial solidity.
Had we not been allowed to produce and preserve a profit during the first ten years, no expansion could have taken place. Incentives are also necessary. It is often much easier to maintain the status quo and not expand, as expansion brings new problems and added responsibilities.
This is why many excellent schools managed by foundations and cooperatives in Sweden have not expanded. Companies take considerable risks, and the many problems associated with expansion are only worthwhile if these risks and problems are balanced by the possibility of creating value for the future, including financial value.
What is fascinating is that Bergstom never seems to see the need to explain why a school needs to expand. If it is meeting local need why does it need to get bigger or open another “branch” somewhere else?

Going back to Brandon I actually see no evidence at all that parents wanted a “choice” of schools. They just wanted a local school. Locally run for local people. A Brandon school for Brandon children.

What they got is a branch of a chain talking part in a politically motivated experiment in profit making schools. No doubt by the time everyone realises this Hancock will have climbed the greasy pole and Bishop long retired. Beware politicians bearing gifts! They are rarely what they say on the tin...
IES Breckland 6781930089134356752

Home item

New Blog

This is my old blog, new posts can be found at

Blog Archive