Gabriel H. Sahlgren was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs and is the author of Schooling for Money: Swedish Education Reform and the Role of the Profit Motive.
In a fresh blow to the coalition’s free school programme, Nick Clegg has pledged that for-profit schools shall remain banned. This is unfortunate and does not make sense. By displaying continuing hostility towards profit-making schools, his ideological convictions are at odds with his progressive goals: without the profit motive, the prospect of a broad-based free school revolution - with the potential of increasing social mobility and improving educational standards for all - looks grim.
Consider the programme’s track record to date. By the end of September, over a year after the reform, only twenty-four new free schools will have opened up shop - of which four already existed as private schools. Unsurprisingly these schools will predominantly serve middle class pupils. The problem is that parents in less privileged neighbourhoods, unlike those in richer ones, rarely start or actively seek to promote new free schools. Currently, strong incentives to enter the education market, especially in poorer areas, are clearly absent - and these incentives can only be produced by allowing profit-making schools to operate.