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Vote Tory If You Want Schools Run for Profit

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That is unlikely to be a slogan that we will see on Conservative posters at the next election. The Tories know it is a deeply unpopular idea. Only 6% of the UK population support it, according to a YouGov poll for the NUT (84% were opposed with 10% undecided).

But Nick Clegg's claim this week that one of the Tory policies he blocked was "profit-making in schools" reveals what many have suspected, that it is only the coalition that has prevented Michael Gove from handing many of our schools over to companies who want to run them for profit.

Gove stated before the last election that he was in favour of for-profit companies running schools and the Independent reported in July that "academies and free schools should become profit-making businesses using hedge funds and venture capitalists to raise money, according to private plans being drawn up by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove."

Several Conservative think tanks have advocated privatising schools. BrightBlue advocated for-profit schools in Tory Modernisation 2.0, Policy Exchange has argued that for-profit companies should run "failing schools" and the Adam Smith Institute published a report arguing for "Profit Making Free Schools". Sam Friedman, then Research Director at Policy Exchange and later Special Advisor to Michael Gove, held no illusions about the motives of private companies: "They are not interested for altruistic reasons. It's an investment."

At the moment the groups that run chains of academies and free schools in the UK cannot be directly run for profit. However they can currently purchase services, including management of the school, from for-profit companies that they are lined to and are free to pay their Chief Executives salaries of £300,000 or more.

Internationally the record of for-profit schools has been mixed at best. Sweden recently vowed to "clamp down on for-profit providers" after one company collapsed leaving 10,000 students in limbo. Education minister Jan Bjorklund explained: "We had a venture capital company that didn't know much about education taking over Swedish schools. They thought they were going to make big money, discovered it wasn't easy, got tired quickly and quit."

Free market advocates argue that a competitive market will improve education. However the YouGov poll makes clear that the public is not convinced. The failure of profit-making companies in delivering public services - with examples like G4S at the Olympics, A4E in back-to-work schemes and Southern Cross in Care Homes - casts doubts that these proposals will do any more than shift money from education for our children to income for shareholders.

"Open up school and hospitals to profit-making companies" is not a slogan that is likely to win votes, but it does seem to represent the intention of the Conservative part of the British government.