School privatisations ideologically led

17 Jan 02
Plans to privatise the education services of Surrey and Essex county councils have met with a lukewarm response from the Local Government Association.

18 January 2002

Essex is preparing to appoint a contractor over the next week to help run services in almost 600 schools. The contract would be worth £300m over seven years.

Surrey wants to set up a joint-venture company with a private contractor that would help run services for more than 400 schools. Paul Gray, director of education at Surrey, said the company would allow the county to sell its services to other authorities.

However, the LGA said the plans for privatisation were 'ideologically led'. Education chair Graham Lane, a Labour councillor, said he had 'grave reservations' about the plans formulated by the two Tory-controlled councils.

He told Public Finance: 'The plans involve the transfer of large numbers of employees to the private sector. It is good that these councils are looking at different ways of providing these services but although the private sector can do better, it is not always the case.'

Both counties are following ideas mooted two years ago by the former Department for Education and Employment, which wanted top-performing authorities to help in running weaker LEAs' services.

The deals are likely to cover education finance services, personnel, governor services and IT support, although teaching staff would continue to be employed directly by the councils.

The LGA tried to set up a nationwide service of its own last year to provide services to struggling education authorities. It signed a partnership agreement with Capita but the plans have not been developed and the scheme has had little impact.

So far, the private sector has only been involved with state schools following government intervention. This week the London Borough of Hackney launched its own education trust, a not-for profit company charged with turning around the dismal record of schools in the borough. It has the ninth worst results in the country at GCSE and the third worst in national tests at age seven.

The trust will be led by former Ofsted chief Mike Tomlinson, who will have to make an impact on a service he himself described as the 'worst in England'.


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