free schools

Why won’t UK Conservatives, led by David Cameron, use public money to fund private, for-profit schools?

The avowedly social democratic Swedes allowed this when they opened up their school system 20 years ago. Today almost three-quarters of their free schools are run on a for-profit basis. These companies succeed because they are entrepreneurial, and treat parents and pupils like valued customers. ….

Of course such free schools can fail, as can a local authority school. But the answer to this is regulation, not prohibition. All schools should get the same amount of funding per pupil, and must agree not to charge extra fees or select by ability. They should then be held to account for the content and quality of the education they provide. Free schools are run on licence, and licences can always be revoked.

To argue the case on its merits is to miss the point, however. The ban on profitmaking schools has little to do with good policy, and everything to do with politics.

Julian Astle, “Profitable lessons for Cameron’s schools revolution“, Financial Times, 24 February 2011.

The political reality, according to this columnist, is that Mr Cameron’s party “hates the idea”.

Julian Astle is director of CentreForum, a liberal think-tank based in Westminster, London.

Information on Sweden’s educational reform is available here.

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