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Stephen Twigg MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, in a major speech to the ‘Good to Great Conference’ of London headteachers, will warn that piecemeal reform and profit making is not the way to raise education standards in England.
He will say:
“Labour’s vision is simple, to ensure that our education system – and I include wider children’s services in this - is an enabler not just to our future economic growth, but to the life chances of the next generation.
“Ed Miliband has expressed this vision in the promise of Britain – the simple idea that the next generation will do better than the last. The only way to achieve this is to deliver opportunities to all pupils, particularly those from poorer backgrounds.
“Now, if your aim is to improving standards in all schools, it is not enough to engage in piecemeal structural reform, which is what the Government has been attempting with its free school programme.
“We have been clear that we have real concerns with the Government’s free schools policy, and while it’s too early to judge free schools in England, I do note that very few appear to have actually been set up by groups of parents.
“I returned yesterday from Sweden.
“I was shocked to hear that in his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry that Michael Gove gave his strongest hint that he could allow companies to make a profit from running schools in England, when as he put it 'we come to that bridge'.
“It’s not often that I agree with Nick Gibb, the Minister for Schools, but it’s interesting that when the Conservatives were in opposition he told the BBC that 'the trouble with allowing companies to make a profit from providing schools is that it take money out of the education system, significant sums of money out. We want to make sure that all that money is retained within it.'
“There are real concerns in Sweden about what has happened with profit making schools.
“One of the biggest is that it allows companies to run a free school for a period of time and then sell it on at a profit.
“I don’t believe that the profit making motive is what will improve educational outcomes in schools in our country. If there is an operating surplus that should be invested back into educating our children, rather than paying a dividend to shareholders.
“There are real risks attached to the profit making experiment. It risks attracting people to our education system simply who wish to make a quick buck. It risks the abuse of public resources at a time when it is even more important that we ensure that every penny of taxpayers’ money is spent wisely.
“According to the IPPR, 'In Sweden and Chile, profit-making schools failed to achieve better results than not-for-profit schools.'
“In the free school system I saw in Sweden, there is some evidence that the most successful are actually those that operate on a not-for-profit basis.
“I also saw evidence in Sweden that giving schools more autonomy can make them hubs for innovation. We need innovation in our school system, but I don't see profit making as necessary for innovation.
“What I do want to understand is where significant groups of schools in England have been able to raise standards in a sustained and innovative way. One of the best examples of this is in London.
“Over 40% of London’s 383 comprehensive secondary schools qualify as schools where disadvantaged children out-perform the national average- this compares to just 7% in the North East, or 6% in Yorkshire and Humber.
“London has been immensely successful in racing above the national average for standards in the last decade.
“And it is interesting to note, as a report from last year by CentreForum did, that at Key Stage 1 there appears to be almost no gap between the performance of pupils in London and the rest of the country, but by Key Stages 3 and 4, London pupils are well ahead, suggesting that there is an improvement during schooling, rather than simply an innate advantage that Londoners have when they join school.
“London schools used to underperform. We need to understand why London schools are now some of the best in the country, and understand what lessons can be learnt for the rest of the country.”