In the UK privatisation of public schools is politically unpopular and not generally considered to be a profitable enterprise by British businesses (although there are a few schools run by for-profit companies - see below). Instead education/business partnerships have been developed and private provision or outsourcing of school functions is encouraged.
The Labour government continued efforts, started by conservative governments, to privatise as many aspects of public schools as possible, increasing the contracting out of educational services to private companies including school inspections and teacher training.
Before it was elected the conservative government indicated that it would allow companies to sponsor academies with a view to making a profit. However, the public opposition was so great that it backed down on this. Nonetheless for-profit companies are already involved in running academies, it is only the sponsors that may not profit from them.
By 2005, for-profit companies GEMS Education ran 13 fee-paying schools and Cognita 21 schools in the UK. Kunskapsskolan, a Swedish for-profit company, which is hoping to run 30 public schools in the UK, is the sponsor for two academies with the third planned for 2011.
For those wanting to make profits out of public schools or low-fee independent schools, they need to cut costs:
Given that staff costs make up around 70% of an independent school's budget, it is hard to see how a cost-cutting private operator will make money unless it uses teachers more economically... But parents seem unwilling to accept such changes when they think that bigger profits, not better education, are the motive.
The Swedish model of free schools is a system that the conservative UK government is seeking to emulate, although in Sweden around half the free schools are run for profit. The markets are gearing up for this new openness to private involvement. UK Analyst says of the new company, Wey Education, which seeks to make a profit from providing management services to UK public schools, "taking control of all aspects of the day-to-day running of such schools":
Firstly, the UK market for education is massive. According to estimates from the company, the government currently spends around GBP16.8 billion per annum on secondary schools and GBP15.2 billion on primary schools... In addition, the firm has good opportunities to take advantage of recent changes made by the Coalition government which will allow for more private sector involvement in state funded schools.
The supply of teachers is also outsourced. Private agencies like Capita Education Resourcing recruit teachers for both permanent and casual positions in the UK, and internationally. UK-based companies “are operating an unregulated global market in teachers”, that was “worth approximately 2.5 billion pounds sterling per annum” in 2000.
Serco, the management services company, has a turnover of £140m in education, from activities such as running Ofsted inspections, education department contracts and providing services such as curriculum development, leadership, and management benchmarking to 330 schools. It would like to add running independent special schools to its portfolio.
Nord Anglia Education trains school head teachers and newly appointed teachers. Its Chair and Founder told a Parliamentary Select Committee on Education and Employment, in 1999:
As a company, our policy is to be involved in a great many areas of education. We are involved in the provision of day care nurseries, for instance. All the way through the ownership and operation of schools in the United Kingdom and overseas; … We are very substantially involved in providing OFSTED [Office for Standards in Education] inspections… We also were recently identified as the contractor to be involved in the support of schools and the Ethnic Minority Achievement Service in the London Borough of Hackney.
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