By Andrew Grice
Private companies would be able to run state schools for profit under a plan to be published by Conservative modernisers which could be introduced if the party wins the next general election.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has told friends he has no objections to “for profit” firms setting up the free schools independent of local authority control he has pioneered since 2010. The controversial idea has been vetoed by the Liberal Democrats, who fear it would be seen as back-door privatisation of the education system. It will not be implemented before the 2015 election, but is now seen as a front-runner for inclusion in the Tory manifesto.
Bright Blue, a modernising pressure group regarded as David Cameron’s natural ally, will propose the move in a book to be published next week calling for the Coalition’s public service reforms to be extended through an injection of market forces.
Although Mr Gove hopes that almost 200 free schools will be opened by September, the book argues that his revolution needs a boost to create more places in good schools. “The rhetoric does not match the reality,” it says, adding that only 24 free schools were set up in the last academic year.
“Relying on not-for-profit organisations and parent groups, which have limited funds, when Government’s capital spending is constrained, is not enough,” Bright Blue says. “The for-profit sector can play a role here, providing the money to get new schools set up.”
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The book admits: “It will be important, of course, to convince the public that this does not stem from an ideological position: that somehow private is better than public and Tories are pursuing privatisation in awe of money-making. This is not true. This is a sensible, hard-headed policy which provides alternative funding sources to boost diversity and ultimately quality of education in this country, while – and this should be said time and time again – ensuring state education remains free at the point of use.”