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Not for profit: The role of the private sector in England’s schools

business and industry, communities, democracy, education, public services, schools

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Author(s):  Rick Muir
Published date:  07 Aug 2012
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While there is a role for the private sector in our education system, schools themselves should not be run for profit. This paper argues that schools should be public institutions, situated at the heart of local communities and run in the public interest.

There is a role for the private sector in our education system. The government has introduced ‘free schools’, new independent state schools operated on a not-for-profit basis which can be established where there is parental demand. Indeed, markets in education services are likely to continue to grow as parents choose to spend more money on their children’s education.

This paper contests each of the arguments made by proponents of for-profit schools – that:

  • competition between schools for pupils is the best way to increase the number of good school places and that only for-profit firms will have sufficient incentives to expand
  • where for-profit providers have run schools around the world they have done so successfully
  • allowing private companies to open new schools is the best way to finance the capital requirements of new school places
  • schools need greater flexibility over pay and conditions to improve the quality of teaching and that allowing private providers into the system is the best way of achieving this
  • the private sector already operates services in other parts of the education system, such as early years and alternative education services, so there can be no objection in principle to commercial organisations running schools.

Instead, policymakers should be focusing on doing the things that we know from international evidence do the most to raise school standards: strengthening school leadership, improving the quality of teaching, giving schools autonomy while holding them robustly to account, and systematically tackling inequalities between children from different class backgrounds.


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Rick Muir, Associate Director for Public Service Reform


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