How much of a difference are independent public schools really making?

A new report by the UK National Foundation for Education Research, released in June, has found that academy schools – a British version of independent public schools – perform no better than traditional public schools.

The study revealed little difference in the results of sponsored and converter academy schools in the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams and similar traditional public schools called ‘maintained schools’:

The amount of attainment progress made by pupils in sponsored and converter academies was shown to be no greater than in maintained schools with similar characteristics.

Save Our Schools’ (SOS) national convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said the latest research shows that governments need to get more creative about developing ways to improve student outcomes in schools.

“The new report adds to the weight of evidence that independent public schools have had little impact on student results. Many other studies around the world have come to a similar conclusion,” Cobbold, wrote in a statement on his organisation’s website.

“The evidence suggests that governments should be looking at other more effective ways to improve student achievement.”

In February, Tony Abbott signalled a renewed push for the Independent Public School (IPS) program, saying it would encourage “greater autonomy in Government schools”.

However, the plan drew scepticism from some leading voices in education.

NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president, Lila Mularczyk, cautioned against the Government’s proposal, saying a “culture of competition” was not in interests of the state’s schools or students.

“Once you create independence of the schools, you then create a culture of competition that cannot be in the best interests of the children, the staff or the wellbeing of the state,” Mularczyk told The Educator.

“There has never been an acknowledgement that this [IPS] is a model that NSW would accept.”

In March, UN Special Rapporteur on education, Kishore Singh, encouraged governments to “strengthen” their public systems to ensure free, quality, basic education for all, adding that “education is not a privilege of the rich and well-to-do”.

“Free, quality basic education is a fundamental human right for all, and governments must not delegate this responsibility to the private sector,” Singh said.

“I am deeply concerned that some governments are actively encouraging the growth of private education in basic education.”