The future of for-profit educational models

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With Labour announcing plans to scrap for-profit educational models by integrating them into the state sector, an already divisive issue is thrown into the spotlight.

To shed some light on the situation, onefourzero explores both the demand and public opinion towards for-profit educational models.

Our research revealed that attitudes towards for-profit education models are increasingly negative, unsurprisingly, given the recent increase of public scrutiny on the issue.

However, our research also revealed that the demand for for-profit educational models is, in fact, increasing.

Onefourzero digs deeper…

Increasing negative public opinion of for-profit educational models

The Labour Party has called for the redistribution of funds and properties held by private schools and to withdraw charitable status, other public subsidies, and tax privileges that for-profit educational institutions benefit from. 

Proposed at the Labour party conference, the measures would aim to ensure the education system offers fair opportunities to all, rather than rewarding a privileged few.

These concerns represent wider public concerns regarding a lack of social mobility and widening inequalities. The negative public sentiment towards private education is evident in the #AbolishEton campaign, brought forwards by activists.

Our research shows that over the 4-year period between August 2015 and June 2019, the tone of conversations surrounding for-profit educational models has been increasingly negative.

Sentiment towards private education 2015-2019

For-profit educational models are criticised for fostering elitism, facilitating access to certain privileges, not only delivering supposedly better performance but also providing children with valuable social networks that they will rely upon later in life.

Ardent supporters of public education highlight that public schools provide valuable lessons in diversity, allowing children to understand both their local community and the functioning of wider society.

Additionally, many take issue with for-profit models prioritising accountability to their shareholders, thus striving to make as much money as possible rather than focusing on the development of the school in the interest of the children.

But… we’re seeing an increasing demand

Thus, it comes as a shock that our research also revealed an increase in demand for for-profit educational models.

Between August 2015 and May 2019, search demand for for-profit education has rocketed, including increased searches for “private schools near me”, “independent schools near me”, and “private primary schools near me”.

Comparatively, searches for state and comprehensive education, over the same time period have not increased.

Searches for private education

Conversations around for-profit educational models show a similar trend, further suggesting an increase in interest and demand.

Conversations about private education

Where is this demand coming from?

The overwhelming majority of searches and conservations comes from those aged 35 and above.

Given that in 2017 the majority of parents were over the age of 30, this statistic logically suggests that the highest level of interest comes from adults looking to enrol their children in schools.

More interestingly, conversations around private education are being increasingly driven by men.

Demand Demographic of private education conversations 2015-2019

This surprising result serves as a reminder that for-profit educational institutions should be aware of where demand is coming from, ensuring that their marketing campaigns are directed at and engaging with the right audience.

What is the fate of private education?

Although public opinion towards private education is increasingly negative, the increase in demand for such options suggests that there is no real threat to for-profit educational models.

Support for Labour’s proposed ban on for-profit educational models is lacking. A poll conducted by YouGov found that 50% of those surveyed opposed a ban, with only 22% in support, and 28% unsure.

The move could cost the taxpayer heavily and cause disruptions to both students and staff. Additionally, it could threaten other for-profit education-based organisations, such as nurseries, and schools for children with disabilities, amongst others.

Labour’s proposed ban on for-profit education neglects the real issues in the education system. These include a severe lack of teaching staff and resources in public education, issues that would be exacerbated by the proposed measures.

As expected, there has been forceful backlash from for-profit education institutions.

The Independent Schools Council has criticised Labour’s proposed actions, claiming the Party had put politics before the interests of children, and that the proposed actions potentially pose a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Additionally, a move from the Labour Party to close for-profit educational models would be met by fierce legal battles from the same institutions over ownership and rights, as was asserted by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference who have already threatened legal action.

For-profit education: a profitable sector?

As our research reveals, whilst there is increasing negative sentiment towards for-profit education, the demand for private school options has increased – and neither is there significant support to ban private schools.

Evidently, whilst there is a barrage of negative public opinion aimed at private schools, this has no impact on demand and a ban on for-profit education is unlikely to manifest in the way proposed by the Labour Party.

It seems for the foreseeable future, for-profit educational models will continue to withstand negative public opinion and continue to be a robust, profitable sector.