Charities run schools better than businesses, says Labour think-tank

Profit-making companies should be barred from setting up or running schools, a think-tank with close links to the Labour Party said today.

Studies showed no conclusive link between private school providers and higher standards in the United States, Sweden and Chile, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said.

Its warning echoes calls from Labour against allowing for-profit companies to operate free schools, which looks likely to be a battleground for school reform in the next general election.

Two centre-right think-tanks have also championed for-profit school operators.

Policy Exchange, which was founded by Mr Gove, said that companies should be forced to meet exam targets before taking profits, reinvest at least half of any profits, only operate in poor areas to boost parental choice, and be barred from selling assets such as school buildings or playing fields.

But the IPPR said that there was no international evidence to support such claims and that most research in the few developed countries to have allowed new providers made no distinction between charitable and commercial independent schools.

It looked at case studies in Chile and Sweden and in Philadelphia, Michigan and Florida in the United States, and concluded that the results were mixed. Where commercial schools performed better they may simply have attracted brighter students, it said.

In Chile, where school vouchers were introduced in the 1980s, one study found that for-profit schools outperformed municipal schools, but new charitable providers did better than both. Other research suggested that secular commercial schools, launched when vouchers were introduced, paid teachers less, employed fewer qualified teachers and had worse results.

Research in Sweden showed that for-profit schools produced higher grades than local authority schools, but charitable schools performed best. The IPPR said that studies failed to take into account the prior attainment of pupils in Sweden’s commercial schools.

In Philadelphia, where failing schools were contracted out to new providers, children in for-profit schools were almost two terms ahead in maths compared with pupils in publicly run schools, although studies in Michigan and Florida found that the ownership of charter schools made no difference to pupil achievement.

Rick Muir, the associate director of IPPR and author of the report, backed free schools and academies, which are opposed by many on the Left and by classroom unions, but he said that they should be led by charitable sponsors rather than commercial investors.

“In order to encourage innovation, there is a strong case for allowing new providers ... but we already have a flourishing not-for-profit school sector in England: there are no competition or innovation grounds for allowing for-profit schools,” his report said.

By Greg Hurst, The Times. Click here to read the article © The Times