Education & Family

For-profit firms 'should run failing schools'

Image caption Mr O'Shaughnessy believes private firms can boost results

Prime Minister David Cameron's former policy chief has called for profit-making firms to be brought in to run England's persistently failing schools.

James O'Shaughnessy says proven education firms should be paid by results to turn such schools around.

His report for the Policy Exchange think tank says England "faces a serious educational problem".

Private organisations are allowed to run schools in England but currently not for profit.

Mr O' Shaughnessy, who quit No 10 earlier this year, calls for private trouble-shooting firms to be brought in under a "new three strikes and you're out rule" based on the new tighter Ofsted inspection regime.

'Chronic failure'

The report says at the first Ofsted notice to improve, schools should be obliged to become a state-funded but privately run academy under a new sponsor.

At the second, the academy would be obliged to join a successful academy chain of at least three schools bound together legally, financially and operationally.

If no improvement is seen by the third notice to improve, the governing body would be obliged to hand over the running of the school to a proven educational management organisation, which may or may not make a profit.

This organisation would then operate the school on a payment-by-results basis.

The Ofsted inspection regime, which was tightened in September, will now designate schools whose status remains "satisfactory" after notices to improve as "failing".

There are currently 6,000 "satisfactory" schools in England.

As the report says, this means the number of failing schools in England could increase dramatically, so if ministers were to adopt the policy, the number of schools that could be taken over by private firms would grow too.

'Hidden crisis'

Mr O'Shaughnessy said: "As the prime minister said earlier this year, there is a 'hidden crisis' where coasting schools have been allowed to bump along in mediocrity for years, delivering a sub-standard education to their pupils.

"But the new Ofsted inspection regime will mean that up to a third of schools will be told they aren't good enough and need to improve.

He added: "However, the dramatic increase in schools being told to improve requires more capacity than the academy and chain sectors can provide.

"So where local authority control has failed, and turning a school into an academy and then placing it into a chain have not been enough to break the cycle of underachievement, we must see whether private companies can help.

"Any objections to the private sector attempting to succeed where the state and voluntary sectors have failed should be dismissed for what they are - ideological prejudice."

He added that there was a host of domestic educational management organisations with superb credentials for running schools.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "There is no evidence base that profit-making schools raise standards, so having these as the 'last resort' does not logically follow.

"There is evidence that not-for-profit schools can raise standards in even the most challenging environments, so the profit motive is not required. Particularly with all the ambiguities of motive it introduces."

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Brian Lightman said: "This report paints a completely misleading and unhelpful picture of an education system in crisis.

"Ofsted's own evidence is of a school system that is continuing to improve, which is why they continue to raise the bar on inspections."

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