How things have changed! We now have the following educational landscape in the UK…
2,300 Academies, including 31 run by United Learning, 27 by e-Act (who also run 2 free schools), 19 by the Harris Federation, and 18 by ARK
135 Sixth Form Colleges
79 free schools (with many more on the way)
34 University Technical Colleges (and up to 100 promised)
1.200 private schools that are part of the Independent Schools Council, including 42 run by the private company Cognita and 24 by the Girls Day School Trust (who also run 2 academies…)
…And only around 1,600 (and falling) secondary schools with direct links to local authorities.
So, what does that mean for competition? The bigger organisations, many run by ambitious people with significant private sector experience, aren’t going to be happy to stand still. They will want to build brands, demonstrate success, and grow in size.They will want to open new schools in all areas of the country, and will look to leverage strengths in purchasing and organisation to cut costs and channel money to areas including marketing (both in listening to customers and innovating, and advertising and promoting themselves).
Smaller schools and chains, both state and independent – will have to respond. Some will succeed as small businesses do, by leveraging their community links and showcasing good service and outcomes. Some luxury brands (Eton and the like) will sail on regardless due to their heritage and excellent results. However, others will suffer as parents send their children to tempting new academies, free schools or private schools. We have already seen private schools close or run into the state sector – King’s, Tynemouth being the latest private school to become a state academy. State schools run the risk of academy take-overs, as Downhills School saw recently, or closure.
And the impact on children? I wish we knew the answer. Innovation might be a great thing for many – the children who made it to Cambridge from Mossborne Academy are no doubt completely in favour of these changes – but are there others who will fall between the cracks and end up passed from school to school as competition causes closures and mergers.
One prediction I’d make is that as a result, in the long term, as schools develop their own marketing strategies, the role of OFSTED as ‘state arbiter’ of success will diminish. Academy chains and free schools are going to be inspected less frequently and will use their own success stories to market themselves. I can see them using their powerful status to refuse to publish negative OFSTED material, resulting in a return to the guidance-only days of the HMI (hotels and restaurants aren’t forced to publish negative reviews on their websites, but still learn from them!). That would be a good result, but is it worth it?
Please add your thoughts!
UPDATE: Others are thinking the same ideas – read this article by Fiona Millar of the Local Schools Network about the GSDT’s future plans.
UPDATE 2: Changes keep coming – the ‘i’ newspaper has a front page feature on the 143 next state schools to be ‘academised’ – which chains will benefit this time?