Commercial Academy Schools Pose Financial Risk

Opinion / April 6, 2016

The strategic educational move by the Department for Education to turn primary and secondary school into academies may be fraught with financial risk. Similar to the privatisation of the UK utilities there is a risk commercial profit could outweigh educational excellence.

The benchmark for educational quality is moving progressively east. The top ten countries in the latest OECD, PISA student assessment include seven from the Far East, with the only European countries being Liechtenstein (8th) Switzerland (9th) and Netherlands (10th).

England has already been castigated by way of the OECD for failing in key subject areas and languishes in the mid twenty positions. Our strategic solution to this crisis appears to centre on the adoption of academy status for all schools. The benefit of this enters unknown territory and we wait to see if this move holds the massive benefits needed to turn things around.

But we are not alone. Australia realised it too has slumped badly in the PISA performance, sliding down since 2003. This has occurred after a massive cash injection made by the Australian government to arrest the slide. This would perhaps not be as bad had the educational system also failed to achieve its domestic targets.

The further training system has also been hit. The Australian government is smarting over what appears to be a total waste of some AUS$13 billion. The grand plan also involved the already established technical and further education (TAFE) colleges having to compete with new Vocational Education and Training (VET) commercial colleges. The result of this situation; courses once offered by the TAFE colleges for a few hundred dollars have been replaced by VET colleges charging tens of thousands of dollars. The TAFE colleges, previously funded by the government had their funding slashed and had to compete with the commercial VET.

This has met with two critical errors. Attendance at the VET colleges often sponsored through student loans many of which have turned sour. Around 79 per cent of students failed to complete the course a situation exacerbated by students who completed a VET course were 50 per cent less likely to repay the loan.

The latest forecast revealed AUS$ 3 billion invested in loans are now unrecoverable (VET ) student loans.

This situation should ring alarm bells back in the UK. in to the potential risk of switching all UK state primary and secondary schools over to commercial academies. The commercial reality of providing a solid education for all children, beyond the Independent sector, is yet to be proven. In Australia the VET commercial colleges versus the state TAFE colleges needs close scrutiny, and the general failure of their state schooling system, which it is claimed, has deskilled Australian students leaving employment opportunities more open to an overseas-educated workforce. The final forecast of the VET situation is $13 billion in lost student loans up to 2017.





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