Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

How to repair a free school – the next stage of Michael Gove’s reforms

Any government can set out on a journey of reform – the question is whether they can stay on course upon hitting turbulence. The coalition is entering this phase now. Its flagship reforms, universal credit and free schools, are encountering difficulty. We all know about the welfare problems, but not much attention has yet fallen on the nature of Michael Gove’s impending headache. I looked at this in my Telegraph column.

There are now 174 free schools in England, and by this time next year it’ll be almost 300. Statistically, some of these are going to have problems – and this is the test for the government. If you were a venture capitalist and backed 300 businesses, how many would you expect to fail? You’d be lucky if it were as few as 30. Gove does not pretend to have invented a formula for guaranteed education success – instead, he is simply inviting teachers and school groups to set up choice in the state system, and see how they get on. The test is not whether these schools stumble, but how they recover. And how quickly the problem is diagnosed.

Any day now, Ofsted will release its report in Britain’s first profit-seeking school, IES Breckland. It’s likely to be a dismal report, and I’d be surprised if it didn’t deliver the worst verdict (‘inadequate’). [Update: this has now happened.] So – proof of failure? Not quite. There’s more to the story, and it’s one I’ve been following for a while. For CoffeeHousers who are interested, here it is…

IES is Sweden’s no. 1 schools group, and Breckland was their flagship British school. They already worked out that things were not going right, so they dealt with it in the Swedish way. They sent over their chief operating officer, a Lancastrian ex-head teacher named John Fyles, to take over and recruit a new head teacher.

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