Morris admits to private agenda

16 Dec 99
Schools minister Estelle Morris has conceded that the government is creating and promoting a market for the private sector to take over the running of failing schools.

17 December 1999

Appearing before the House of Commons education select committee, Morris justified the increasing reliance on the private sector. She told MPs: 'There is a lot to learn from the private sector about leadership and management, not necessarily about education. These are the qualities we want to see brought in.'

The government is planning to increase the number of approved contractors to privatise inefficient services in the new year, according to Morris.

Flatly rejecting the notion that failing local education authorities could look to their more successful counterparts, rather than the private sector, to turn around disastrous services, Morris said few authorities had done so.

She added: 'This is historical failure. If all that an LEA needed to do was look to another, then why have they not done it? That failure says a lot about the attitude to improvement.'

She dismissed concerns about the cost of consultants, saying they were 'a drop in the ocean' compared with the entire education budget. 'Failing services are not value for money, and a small amount spent on raising standards is money well spent,' she said.

A day earlier, on December 14, Morris had sent consultants into the London Borough of Southwark to take over what Ofsted chief inspector Chris Woodhead described as 'dismal services'. In a damning report, Ofsted slated the LEA for 'a failure of strategic management and leadership and a failure of planning'.

In the second highly critical report on Southwark within a year, Ofsted said the authority had 'regressed' and 'had lost the trust and respect of its schools, some of which can no longer discern any useful purpose that the authority serves'.

Morris has also asked consultants to prepare reports on Walsall and Bristol following critical assessments from the education watchdog.

The Local Government Association's education chair, Graham Lane, pointed the finger at poor political leadership. He said the LGA was keen to spread the good practice and ideas of the best LEAs across local government, but it was a voluntary issue.

He added: 'We would be happy to move in and help them to tackle these problems, but we must be asked. It would be better for everyone if we got involved to stem the problems before this stage.'


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