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Gove's free schools revolution must embrace profit-making businesses to succeed

Tim Montgomerie

Under James Crabtree the FT's Comment pages have become among the very best from Fleet Street. Today's pages are no exception and Julian Astle of the Centre Forum think tank has contributed an article challenging the Coalition to embrace profit-making schools.

Astle argues (£) that Michael Gove's free schools programme has not taken off and the lack of incentive for businesses to get involved is a primary reason:

"Last summer 700 groups registered an interest, but education secretary Michael Gove has since seen plans run into the sand. Although 250 applications were submitted, only 30 have been approved, and just eight will be ready to open in September... The avowedly social democratic Swedes allowed [profit-making] 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. When faced with long waiting lists, they use their profits to set up new schools. And, crucially, because they meet their own start-up costs, the supply of places has expanded at almost no extra cost to the taxpayer."

ConservativeHome has long argued that the free schools revolution needs a profit-making dimension but chances were slim even before the election and Astle notes that the Liberal Democrat rank-and-file "hate" (his word) the idea of profit-making schools.

The New Schools Network would argue that there is reason for hope, however, and it carries a map on its website of the parent and teacher-led groups who have expressed an interest in setting up a new school:

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