mtmconsulting has provided yesterday’s guest article for the SchoolGate blog at The Times website. The article’s focus is the possible effects that Michael Gove’s proposed free-schools policies may have on existing independent schools in the UK.
The article, by Schools Consultant Joe Faulkner, is copied below:
Michael Gove’s proposals to introduce several thousand ‘free’ schools into the UK’s education sector – independent of local political control, but Government-funded – have been covered almost ad nauseam ahead of this year’s general election. The Conservatives believe that the establishment of such Swedish / American / Canadian influenced schools will “create a new generation of good small schools with high standards of discipline”. The wisdom of this policy has been debated elsewhere, but the effect such numbers of “independent state schools” might have on existing fee-paying schools – which educate 7% of all youngsters and are, in Gove’s own words, of “world-class” standard – is less well rehearsed.
While Mr Gove has said he would welcome existing fee-paying schools switching to take up the new free schools model, the Independent Schools Council has indicated that only smaller or struggling schools would do so. So what might this increasing competition mean for our existing fee-paying schools?
The mtm Independent Education Sector Report 2010 looked at the likely impact of introducing something like the Swedish education model into the UK. It found a general agreement amongst sector leaders that a growing number of good state schools would draw pupils away from the independent sector.
Using state grammar schools as a proxy for good state schools, it found that:
- In Local Authorities where state grammar schools exist, independent school rolls account for 6.4% of pupils at 11+;
- In Local Authorities where there are no grammars, independent schools educate 9.7% of pupils after 11.
The conclusion from this, that state grammar schools reduce total fee-paying rolls by about one-third could suggest a bleak picture for the independent sector, if the Conservatives’ plans really did transform state schooling.
But – and it’s a big but in the current economic climate – any increase in choice for parents depends on providing a surplus of places for pupils: no surplus – no choice. In any business model, providing a surplus closely correlates to a level of wasted funds (those ‘empty’ places cost money), and that’s going to be difficult for any government to justify when faced with the UK’s current budget deficit.
Furthermore, where free schools are successfully introduced, there may be an opportunity for independent schools to become involved in the movement. In recent years increasing numbers of big-name schools (Harrow, Haileybury, Sherborne) have set up overseas sister schools to take advantage of new trends in global demand for education; others have become closely involved in the Academy programme. We may similarly see leading schools in the independent sector building their own free schools, where economies of scale and expertise can be delivered.
Finally, and this is an important point, even if free schools do successfully bring increased choice to parents, will they prove to offer genuinely plausible competition to independent schools? The significant degree to which class-sizes, facilities, extra-curricular activities and an ability to cater for each individual child’s needs govern parental decision-making is key here, as free schools will still be limited by per place funding comparable with existing state schools.
Closer analysis of the model for free-schools in Sweden suggests that, if introduced into the UK, such schools might struggle to provide this range of facilities, activities and benefits that parents find such a compelling offer in independent schools in this country. This may also explain why none of the lower-fee independent models already established have competed effectively against their higher-cost counterparts. ”