For-profit school providers shun 'free schools'
15 Sep 2010
At a conference for independent schools this week I heard a blunt admission from the head of a big for-profit private school provider that there is not enough money in the government's 'free schools' programme to entice companies like his to get involved.
The Chief Executive of this UK-based company (which I cannot name as the event was under Chatham House rules) said that his organisation would 'not be getting involved in "free schools" as it would damage our reputation as we cannot do it at the per pupil funding that's on offer'.
He did say, however, that some for-profit private school firms that took a 'stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap' approach might see something they could get out of the 'free schools' programme.
Despite this claim, however, it seems several for-profit firms are watching the 'free schools' initiative closely but are cautious about the financial rewards.
At present, for-profit firms can only be involved as management companies (for which they receive a fee) but cannot sponsor and open a school directly, although there is lobbying under way to allow this to happen.
For now, the Chief Executive quoted above, argued that there were much better prospects for the for-profit sector to open new top-end fee-charging schools, despite the fears of recession. He dismissed as 'complete rubbish' the idea that chains of new cut-price private schools would be a threat to the traditional independent schools sector.
He told the conference: 'I do not see a socio-economic emerging class on family incomes of £50,000 going to no-frills schools at £6,000 a year and offering no more than state schools, and maybe less, and with classes of 30 pupils'
However, he said there was a market for these cut-price schools in some parts of the Middle East where companies like GEMS had made it work by operating at scale.