Michael Gove’s appearance at the Leveson inquiry has provided us with a revelation, but not the one you might have expected. For the first time on record, the Education Secretary declared that free schools “could” become for-profit institutions in the second term of a Tory-led government.
Gove told the inquiry:
It’s my belief that we could move to that situation but at the moment, it’s important to recorgnise that the free schools movement is succeeding without that element and I think we should cross that bridge when we come to it.
He remarked that unlike some of his coalition colleagues, “who are very sceptical of the benefits of profit”, he had an “open mind”, adding: “I believe that it may be the case that we can augment the quality of state education by extending the range of people involved in its provision.”
It’s a significant rhetorical shift by Gove. Last September he told the Andrew Marr Show:
Nick (Clegg) and I are completely in agreement on this (banning for-profit free schools). It’s not an issue.
The Conservative election manifesto said that we don’t need to have profit at the moment, the Liberal Democrat manifesto said that we don’t need profit at the moment and we don’t.
And here’s what Clegg said:
To anyone 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.
Gove’s comments are another example of the growing willingness of the Tories to state how a Conservative government would behave differently from the coalition.