Competition amongst schools: Thinking it through

Imagine a city with 6 secondary schools. In a year or so these may be schools that are part of national academy chains, free schools, stand alone academies or schools that have stuck to a partnership with what remains of the Local Authority. The unavoidable logic of competition is that schools will compete for the best staff and the best students. The market forces would also suggest that one school will eventually prevail and swallow, supermarket style, all of the others. So now we have 6 ‘outlet’ schools which undergo the usual rationalisations and economies of scale – one head, one bursar etc. The question arises – what incentive is there for such a chain to persevere with the students from the most deprived areas – the ‘loss making’ parts? Extra funding from government? Perhaps. But what we will have is an absence of local choice for parents and staff and an absence of local competition and diversity. Who would referee disputes and concerns on behalf of parents and students? What happens when the chain goes bust? What would be the costs of restoring the schools to autonomous operation? These are surely fundamental questions and without some notion of answers, who thinks it is safe to pursue the current policies with such haste?

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