Another market failure

Two studio schools for 14-18 year olds in the midlands are to close because of a failure to recruit enough students. This is how the message was announced by the trust responsible for the schools.

The Midland Academies Trust is to change the learning provision for students at its studio schools in Hinckley and Nuneaton.  Students will now be given the opportunity to continue their studies at other schools within the Trust supported by North Warwickshire and Hinckley College.  They will continue with the specialist CREATE Framework, supported by personal coaches and enjoy work experience arrangements aligned with the key features of the studio school model.

The decision comes as increasing financial pressures due to low pupil recruitment make the economic viability of small schools hugely challenging. The studio schools cater for 300 students each (600 in total) but there are currently a total of 157 pupils on roll across both schools. Year 10 and Year 12 students will be given the opportunity to continue their studies at either The George Eliot School or The William Bradford Academy from January 2016.  Current staff will continue to work with them and they will continue with their work placements and relationships with employers.

The Year 11 and Year 13 students will remain at the studio schools until the end of the academic year. – See more at: http://www.msc.leics.sch.uk/news?story=47#sthash.Ho3nB2FV.dpuf

At least the examination year pupils are to be catered for without the need to move school just over a term and a half before their examinations. Hopefully, they won’t experience any serious staff changes.

The Trust responsible for the two schools posted this announcement on the 1st December. As I pointed out when the UTC in the west midlands announced its closure in the spring, local authorities weren’t allowed to just shut down a school at short-notice.

Indeed, it is probably time that the EFA has talks with the government about a protocol on closure procedures, especially where it is due to financial viability. With the first stage of the admissions process now largely finished for 2016, a stress test, like that applied to the banks, should be administered by the EFA to all schools it funds and a list of those at risk published so that parents can decide whether moving their child at 14 is really a sensible idea.

In many ways I think the notion of a 14-18 sector is a good one and some of the schools are already flourishing with good recruitment, but many aren’t. After all, why would a school want to wave goodbye to four years of possible funding by encouraging students to change school at 14 unless by doing so their results improved.

Market failure, especially in new products, isn’t unusual. These schools do represent a new type of schooling that may need more marketing to parents. Whether we should be experimenting in an age of austerity where the government wants to take a billion pounds out of education procurement – presumably including spending on marketing – is an interesting question.

Could the same result have been achieved just by general further education colleges widening their offering to the 14-16 age-group? What are the real costs of each of these new UTCs and studio schools? As I have said elsewhere, each school needs a head teacher and other leadership staff. This puts pressure on the pool of leaders that isn’t an inexhaustible supply, making it more difficult for every school looking for a new leader.

However, the biggest question for debate is that of how far our education system should be organised on market principles?

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2 thoughts on “Another market failure

  1. Schools aren’t like shops where closure is an inconvenience for customers who can find other ways of shopping. Closure of schools, especially when it’s sudden, causes serious problems for students who have to find places in other schools at short notice. This in turn causes problems for schools faced with a sudden influx of pupils. And there’s a cost to taxpayers.

    Schools in competition with each other will find ways of increasing their market share. This has perverse incentives such as deterring pupils who are likely to reduce results. It also diverts money from education to marketing.

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