Education secretary Nicky Morgan has refused to rule out the introduction of for-profit schools should the Conservatives win next year’s general election.
Ms Morgan told an exclusive TES web-chat that the issue of allowing schools to be established by profit-making companies would need to be thought about “very carefully”.
She praised the work done by existing academies and free schools, which are barred from being set up for profit, but left the door open to the introduction of for-profit schools, saying it was a policy on which she was happy to take further advice.
“I think we are very clear and that the sector is very clear about the importance of not for profit,” Ms Morgan said. “[For profit] is something I’m happy to have lots of further advice and emails on. I suspect that most people may not be very keen on it, but it’s something … well, you’d have to think very carefully.
“I think, actually the not for profit model has worked extremely well and we have really successful academies and academy sponsors and what we want to see is more of the best schools, more successful academies, more free schools, more university technical colleges, things that really work for students that are at the heart of the system.”
The issue of allowing for-profit state schools would be highly controversial, with classroom unions strongly opposed to any move in that direction.
Ms Morgan’s predecessor as education secretary, Michael Gove, said back in 2011 that there was no need for profit-making schools “at the moment”, leading to a spat with Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg who ruled out the possibility under the coalition.
IES Breckland, a free school in Suffolk, made headlines when the trust that established the school employed a for-profit Swedish company to manage the day-to-day operations in a ten-year £21 million deal.
The school was placed into special measures in March this year, with the parent company being forced to admit it was providing sub-standard education.
Mr Gove said at the end of 2012 that the government had created the opportunity for IES to demonstrate what they could do and win the argument for the expansion of the for-profit model.