By Matthew Barrett
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The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, gave a much-previewed speech on the Coalition's Free Schools today, essentially to try and assuage Liberal Democrat concerns about the policy. In one key passage of the speech, Clegg said:
"And, to anyone who is worried that, by expanding the mix of providers in our education system. We are inching towards inserting the profit motive into our school system. Again, let me reassure you: yes to greater diversity; yes to more choice for parents; But no to running schools for profit, not in our state-funded education sector."
However, the Institute of Economic Affairs have come out arguing that the profit motive drives school standards up – especially for the poorest pupils. James Croft, an IEA Education Fellow, condemned Mr Clegg for "reactionary thinking". He said:
"Nick Clegg is totally wrong when it comes to running schools for profit. Evidence from Sweden shows that for-profit schools invest to ensure high-quality outcomes and that their impact tends to be greatest on those from low socio-economic backgrounds. Rather than being socially divisive – as Clegg states – evidence shows that giving schools greater freedom over curriculum and teaching priorities stimulates innovation and that increased competition drives up standards across the board. This kind of reactionary thinking is precisely what has kept our state education system in the mire for decades. Nick Clegg would do better to look at the actual facts rather than indulging in populist anti-capitalist rhetoric."