Profit-making Schools: Good Or Bad Idea?

Education is a public service that plays a pivotal role in establishing an inclusive society. Hence, owing to its public good aspect, the for-profit model for delivering education is fraught with potential risks that are challenging to mitigate. However, despite this notion, we must acknowledge two facts. Firstly, we already have some degree of for-profit involvement in the education sector through companies providing software and textbooks, and agencies offering temporary teaching staff. Conversely, secondly, given that local authorities are being asked to commission schools, it can be challenging to incentivize their selection in certain regions without offering financial benefits. To this end, while I have always contested the for-profit model, I can also appreciate how it could work for commissioning in struggling areas.

The idea of profit-making schools is inherently unscrupulous, and there are no merits to substantiate it. It is vital to reinvest every penny back into education to preserve the quality of instruction. My school has exceptional facilities, and when we rent them out, the revenue is returned to the school. Even when I am invited to speak about my role as the head, any compensation I receive is directed back into the school. Although some argue that for-profit schools would increase revenue, the reality is that it would deplete the sector. Having worked for a profit-making school in Cairo, I can attest that it was a commercial operation and had a completely different focus. The primary concern was the school’s image, rather than the children’s experience. However, in my school, nothing is more important than how it impacts the students.

I am not entirely against investigating the feasibility of for-profit schools, and I believe some experimentation is beneficial. However, it is vital to ensure that profit-making firms do not cherry-pick the best schools. Allowing this will undoubtedly cause an unworkable system. Therefore, schools of different types and quality should be offered to assess whether the profit motive yields growth across these institutions before deciding to give the firms the green light.

Though the least contentious area for this idea is failing schools, it may be difficult to justify asking profit-making entities to run just failing schools. The issue of public acceptability is also significant. In general, there is skepticism about the private sector participating in public healthcare provision under the NHS. Similarly, there is likely to be anxiety about for-profit schools if the public sector struggled with provision in the first place.

Though former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is attempting to present success stories of privatised education, the truth is that the evidence base is meagre. He argues that providing great schools should be the priority, regardless of their ownership. However, this is not a valid argument for profit-making schools. As an educator, I did not pursue this profession for financial gain, and I am yet to meet a fellow teacher who prioritises profit. Our ultimate goal is to provide our students with excellent academic results. If profit-making is introduced, this ethos will inevitably diminish, and as a head, I will have to be answerable to a board who only prioritises returns.

Rather than focusing on the pros and cons of for-profit schools, the emphasis should be on what type of system is being developed. The system’s quality is vital to consider, and it should not be an afterthought.

It is a noteworthy shift away from for-profit companies in the United States, with many school chains having experienced spectacular failure, resulting in the closure of six or seven schools and thousands of displaced students. Furthermore, there have been incidents where companies have acquired schools and "stripped" them of assets before reselling, creating a concerning situation for education. According to Kenny Frederick, head of George Green’s school in southeast London, when for-profit companies get involved in education; it is crucial to understand the consequences. The most significant issue with for-profit schools is that they tend to exclude the most challenging students to teach, such as vulnerable children with special needs from hard-to-reach families, as they are costly to educate, and returns are minimal. Anders Hultin, a former head of a UK-based Gems school chain and now head of a profit-making school company in Sweden, argues that allowing profit-making companies to run schools is vital for scaling the free school movement; otherwise, the education sector will end up with a few hundred small-scale schools with no growth plans. Profit-making companies provide impetus for growth and improvement in schools as fundamental business principles. Janey Marland, head of Cavendish primary in West Didsbury, Manchester, raises concerns about bringing in profit-making schools as no empirical evidence confirms if it would succeed. Furthermore, she highlights that school governors play a vital role and that running the governance process unpaid while others profit seems unfair. Bringing profit into teaching is like giving up on the idea that teaching is done for the greater good rather than capital gain, according to Katharine Birbalsingh, currently setting up the Michaela Community free school in Brent. Schools must focus on more than profit, argues Ian Gilbert, teacher trainer, as neo-liberal experiments like Chile have shown that business-owned schools result in dubious practices, increased computer-based learning, and offshore tax havens for profits.


  • kaylarusso

    Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.



Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.

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