Pity about the Swedes, Michael!

Is that a free school I hear closing?

As we know, our dearly beloved Education Secretary got his ‘big idea’ for ‘free schools’ from Sweden (and, to a lesser extent, the Charter Schools in the USA). The evidence that they raise standards is, to say the least, patchy. Nonetheless, Michael ploughs on secure in the knowledge that he’s right. Mr Gove would like to go even further we know: at the moment, ‘free schools’ and academies have to be run by educational charities or trusts but Gove sees no reason why people shouldn’t be able to run schools for profit. Here’s the reason.

In Sweden, where that very same thing has been happening for some time, one of the biggest providers of these schools — J B Education — has decided there isn’t enough profit in it and is to close four of its schools and sell the rest. The decision, which follows four school closures announced by the company in February, came as the Danish private equity group Axcel, which bought the chain in 2008, decided it could no longer continue to cover the company’s losses. This seems to most of us on the anti-academies/free schools ‘side’ of the argument to be inescapable proof of the folly of Gove and his actions. Even if so-called ‘free schools’ were shown to be delivering a better education, which they most certainly aren’t, can we as a nation risk leaving hundreds of our children high and dry at the commercial whim of private equity companies?

‘Ibrahim Baylan, the education spokesman for Sweden’s opposition Social Democratic party, said the closures should come as a warning to the UK not to slavishly adopt the Swedish model, where private companies can set up profit-making free schools, paid for by the state but with little government oversight.

“Before you do something like this you have to really, really think about how you set up the system,” he said. “The system here is not working as it’s supposed to work. Nobody could foresee that so many private equity companies would be in our school system as we have today.”

Two Swedish school companies, Kunskapsskolan and Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES), have already taken over the management of schools in the UK, albeit on a non-profit basis. Like JB Education, both are owned by private equity companies. Kunskapsskolan’s non-profit UK arm, Learning Schools Trust, operates schools in Suffolk, Northamptonshire and two in Richmond, south-west London. IES is often cited as an inspiration for the Conservative push for free schools, with the education secretary, Michael Gove, visiting IES’s schools in Sweden. Through a trust named Sabres, IES has operated a free school in Breckland, Suffolk, since 2012.’ (Extract from Guardian article, 31 May)

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