Stephen Twigg warns against 'quick buck' school profit
- 31 May 2012
- From the section Education & Family
Introducing profit-making into state schools in England risks attracting firms looking for a "quick buck", says Labour's Stephen Twigg.
The shadow education secretary says he was shocked that Education Secretary Michael Gove appeared to be considering free schools being run for profit.
Mr Gove had told the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday that he had an "open mind" on such profit making in the future.
But Mr Twigg says such a change "risks the abuse of public resources".
Labour's education spokesman is to warn against profit-making in state schools in a speech to head teachers in London, later on Thursday.
'Risk of abuse'
"There are real risks attached to the profit-making experiment," he is set to tell a conference about education standards in London.
"It risks attracting people to our education system simply who wish to make a quick buck.
"It risks the abuse of public resources at a time when it is even more important that we ensure that every penny of taxpayers' money is spent wisely."
Mr Twigg says he has just returned from Sweden, one of the inspirations for free schools - state-funded schools set up by charities or community groups.
But unlike in England, free schools in Sweden can be run for profit - and Mr Twigg will tell head teachers that this is raising concerns.
"One of the biggest is that it allows companies to run a free school for a period of time and then sell it on at a profit," says Mr Twigg.
"I don't believe that the profit-making motive is what will improve educational outcomes in schools in our country.
"If there is an operating surplus, that should be invested back into educating our children rather than paying a dividend to shareholders."
Profit 'not necessary'
Mr Twigg will tell head teachers that Michael Gove had given his "strongest hint that he could allow companies to make a profit from running schools".
This followed an exchange at the Leveson Inquiry, when Mr Gove was asked about the prospect of free schools being run for profit.
Mr Gove had said that "the free-school movement can thrive without profit".
When he was further pressed whether it would be desirable to generate a profit, Mr Gove said: "There are some of my colleagues in the coalition who are very sceptical of the benefits of profit. I have an open mind."
The education secretary was then asked about the "aspiration" that a second-term Conservative-led government would allow free schools to be run for profit.
Mr Gove replied: "It's my belief that we could move to that situation," adding: "But I think at the moment it's important to recognise that the free-schools movement is succeeding without that element, and I think we should cross that bridge when we come to it."
At present, free schools cannot be run for profit - but the trusts that run them can buy management services from profit-making firms.
There have been criticisms from teachers' unions about the blurring of this boundary.
The NASUWT criticised the £21m contract awarded to a profit-making Swedish company for managing a free school in Suffolk.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "This government has no plans to allow free schools or academies to make profit.
"Any income earned by the charitable trust must be reinvested to improve and advance education for pupils."
Rachel Wolf, the director of the New Schools Network (which helps groups prepare free school bids), says the idea of profit in schools should be looked at.
"There is serious momentum already in the free schools movement, but if free schools are to go to scale then profit has to be considered," she said.
"Every child has the right to a high quality - and free - education, regardless of who provides it."