Free schools and profits

Posted by Christie Malry on September 4, 2011 at 10:00 am

Nick Clegg calls upon his vast reserves of fuckwittery and, according to the Guardian, puts a stop to the idea that free schools might be able to make a profit:

Nick Clegg has thwarted plans by the education secretary, Michael Gove, to allow the new generation of "free schools" to make profits in the state sector after a massive ideological battle over the coalition's education policy.

The deputy prime minister will on Monday trumpet his success as one of three key victories achieved over Gove, which he says will ensure that free schools have to operate for the "whole community" and not just for "the privileged few" or for profit.

This is totally idiotic. As Tim Worstall points out, and indeed as the comments to the Guardian article make clear, it's easy to not make a profit. You just over pay for your expenses and undercharge your revenues. You will very quickly make no profits. This reveals Clegg's intervention to be Liberal Democrat shallow thinking at its dismal worst.

But, sadly, it's worse even than that. Implicit in lefty thinking is the presumption that, if only we allowed them to, free schools could educate vast numbers of posh middle class kids, obtaining far better results than existing state schools, while managing to cream off massive fees for their 'directors', pay their staff handsomely, charge enormous management charges for brands and other intangibles, but still - miraculously - turn a profit. It doesn't make any sense.

And, even if it did make sense, who could object to such a formula? If there were a button that could turn existing state schools into newfangled 'free schools' that operated along those lines, who could justify not pressing that button? "I'm not pressing it, I want students to languish in lower standard comprehensive schools!", perhaps?

The pursuit of profit has a long and noble history, as people have strived to find easier and more efficient ways of doing things. And, because the new way is cheaper than the original way, we thank the original inventor by paying him/her for dreaming up a new simpler method - be it dishwashing or transport, or any of the countless other simplifications throughout history. What can possibly be the ideological objection to profit-making in schools? Do people really believe that there are huge resources sloshing around state schools, ripe to be skimmed off by merciless capitalists? Existing private schools get better results, for sure, but they do so on the back of far greater resources. Surely private school results on state school resources must be the Holy Grail of teaching.

So who - other than teaching unions, perhaps (who have much to lose from greater efficiency in teaching - can possibly object to all this?

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