Free school £21m private contract plan

Sarah's picture
by Sarah

So IES - a private profit making company - will be running a free school on behalf of the proposers in a 10 year contract worth £21m according to this story.

The DfE says "This is not the same as the free school proposers making a profit themselves. The charitable trust will manage the contract and hold the contractor to account, and will be fully responsible and in control over what happens in the school.'

This is a private company delivering education using tax payers money. They will not be answerable to parents or the local community. They will in effect be answerable only (and indirectly) to the Secretary of State via the Free School's funding agreement.

For anyone who believed this government when it said that public services are safe in their hands - this is the direction of travel and the first step (of many) en route to an entirely private sector education market.
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Jake's picture
Wed, 14/12/2011 - 11:15

What utter drivel. IES will be very much accountable to the parents and local community as it is they who have employed the company. And in terms of a cheap shot against this government, this type of model was already in place under the previous government where Edison provided education services in north London as far back as 2007. If you're going to make sweeping statements at least check your facts first.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 14/12/2011 - 14:10

You are correct, Jake, the last Government did allow a profit-making firm, Edison, to run a state school in April 2007. It said so in the article which Sarah mentioned although the firm was not named. This has been discussed on this site before - see my post of 1 December 2011 on this thread:

Also here:

Far from making "sweeping statements", Sarah has voiced legitimate concerns about the role of profit-making companies in English education. And it's true that members of the last Government including Lord Adonis were probably in favour of allowing schools to make a profit. This was suggested in the Policy Exchange/New Schools Network publication, "Blocking the Best", which advocated profit-making firms being able to run English schools. This was discussed here:

The Government has said that the free school founders won't be making a profit - they are prevented from doing so by their charitable status. However, the profit-making firm wouldn't be interested in running the school if it could not make a profit out of educating children. And this money could be better spent being ploughed back into the school.

For a discussion about what happened when a group of parents in London accused a profit-making firm of "milking" the school for profit, see here:

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 16/12/2011 - 17:59

Edison were relieved of the contract to run Turin Grove school - in other words private sector involvement is not the magic bullet that some on the right appear to believe .Expect to see similar stories in the future. I wonder if the governing bodies of these schools realise how complex it will be to exercise control via a ten year contract. Absolutely no chance that the parents will be able to influence matters unless they have armies of lawyers to help them.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 17/12/2011 - 14:40

The proposers of the Breckland Free School say that their chosen "education provider" (ie IES UK, a subsidiary of Internationella Engelska Skolan) will choose the Principal. I thought appointing staff was something that school governors did. In Sweden, IES appoints the teachers. Will it do so at Breckland? And what about other important decisions such as teaching materials, curriculum, teaching methods and so on? And if the school is locked into a ten-year contract, what can the Governors do if they are not happy? So much for freedom and autonomy.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 17/12/2011 - 14:55

The TES has answered my questions above. The paper reported that IES would want to run things their way:

"But for the deals to go ahead, IES said its partners would have to hand over a large degree of decision-making powers to the company. Although interested groups would still have legal control of the governing body, IES UK manager Jodie King said it would want to decide on the head and much else besides."

"Let's say that they (school governors) came down with a decision we didn't agree with at all and we felt would jeopardise the students' success, then it goes without saying that we can't continue to run the school unless we can use the methods that we know work," Ms King said. She added that any profit would be split between the company's shareholders and funding further expansion."

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 17/12/2011 - 15:47

There is little the governors can do - although I presume they will scrutinise the contract carefully for break clauses before they sign. A few years ago I took part in a round table discussion for the Observer on this issue with Anders Hultin the former CEO of Kunskapsskolan, the Swedish free school providers. He was quite clear that once the business of running the school is contracted out, the private company makes the key decisions such as the appointment of the head teacher. In a way that is perfectly understandable, since the contractors will be judged on the success of the school's performance. However it does remove power and responsibility from both governors and the wider community.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 14/12/2011 - 12:49

Back in February, Sweden's education minister Jan Björklund conceded that there are several indications that in many privately-run, publicly-funded schools, profit takes precedence over quality. A loophole in legislation has meant that free schools can choose not to have a library, student counselling, and school nurses and the minister has announced an inquiry into how free schools which fail to meet accepted standards can be prevented from taking out profits.

Currently, all political sides in Sweden generally agree that the current system needs to be reviewed.

Carl Lindberg, who served as deputy state secretary in Sweden's education ministry under the Social Democrats from 1994-2004, has said that “there is a great risk to the quality in a school if it is run by a company. The first and overall goal for a company is to produce profit for its owners, not to educate the students. It can be so low-risk to run a school, because the municipality, by law, has to pay them, on average, the same amount per student that they pay to their own schools.”

Lindberg has also pointed to the discrepancy between free schools and regular public schools when it comes to accessing information about the schools.

"The principle of public access to official records and the right for all employees to openly express their opinions to the press and to the parents, is of great importance for the quality of the work in schools. These rights are lacking in most of the private schools and particularly those which are companies."

A report by Skolverket, the National Education Agency, said poorer children were often left behind as "first-come, first served" admissions policies operated by many schools favour pupils with pushy parents.

IES Schools are owned by a philanthropist, according to Peter Fyles, its Managing Director who for some time has been advising the British government on free schools. This puts Swedish Free Schools in alignment with their American Charter School cousins, also run for profit and controlled by a group of philanthropists who have exerted their influence to dictate the education agenda in some large part to benefit the same group of wealthy individuals and heads of corporations that they themselves belong to.

With Sweden reviewing its entire Free School policy and the United States failing to raise standards across the board, it is a mystery why Michael Gove believes that private companies can be trusted to run schools in a way that puts the education of children, rather than profits or the egos and ideologies of philanthropists, first and foremost. Evidently, this has not been the case in Sweden or America.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 14/12/2011 - 14:28

Sabres Educational Trust, the proposers of the free school which would be run by IES, seem to be desperate to get sufficient demand. They have put out a plea saying if they get insufficient demand then the school will not open.

These statements about education providers were given on Sabres website:

"These [education providers] are privately owned companies specialising in education provision who are employed by the Trustees for the school. SABRES are only interested in those companies who demonstrate willingness and enthusiasm for working with the community and who do not wish to ‘line their pockets with gold’ but reinvest their profits for the good of educating students."

"Education Providers seek to make a small profit and SABRES are only interested in those who share our community's vision and would reinvest their profits for the good of educating our children"

As I said above, no private firm would be interested in running a school unless it could make money out of the enterprise. And it begs the question of how education providers expect to make a profit - by hiring untrained teachers, perhaps, or young, inexperienced ones? Or maybe by providing a lot of IT based learning?

And as for being "accountable to the parents and the local community" as Jake claims, how will they be able to break a ten-year contract which was made with the Trustees of the school?

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 21/12/2011 - 12:13

I am with you Janet ; I personally don't like too much IT based learning but I am not an educator so cannot give an informed opinion either way ....being pragmatic it seems fair to point out that the Labour initiated sponsorship Academy Leeds West Academy...finally in its new building in Sept 2011 - has a an average IT provision of 1.4 terminals per pupil .... and few textbooks... My friend's son in Year 9 had an exam to revise for but no books in sight.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 14/12/2011 - 17:13

The appeal on the website of Sabres Educational Trust by the proposers of the Breckland free school for expressions of interest has been echoed by the MP for West Suffolk on 21 November:

"Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): As the Secretary of State knows, support in the community of Brandon for the Breckland free school is extremely strong. Will he assure me that all expressions of interest from parents, both on official forms and on the forms from the free school, will be taken into account when he makes a decision on whether that free school should go ahead?"

Why is Mr Hancock referring to two sets of forms? He mentions "official forms" and "forms from the free school"? Surely there should only be one form? Would one person be able to complete two forms, therefore ending with double counting? And if not, who will check that the same name doesn't appear twice?

And did Mr Gove give any assurance about the forms? No, he didn't mention them in his reply with its implied message that existing schools in the area don't provide the "best possible education" but a yet-to-be-opened school which is still touting for support will:

"Michael Gove: I had the great pleasure of meeting the parents behind that free school application. They were a fantastic model of citizen action. The Department will do everything possible to ensure that their bravery, courage and energy in ensuring that their children get the best possible education are supported to the full."

Emma Bishton's picture
Tue, 20/12/2011 - 23:47

I thought one of the key virtues of free schools was supposed to be that they are parent-led. Yet if in establishing new free schools trustees end up contracting with privately-owned companies, key management decisions which would normally have fallen to governors to make - such as appointing heads as outlined above - will now no longer be influenced by the local parents and community representatives on the governing body. I would find this situation ironic were it not for the potential for 1.8million of public money in Suffolk to be used making a profit out of a state school.....

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/12/2011 - 09:53

There is an additional concern about unelected and self-appointed groups being given the responsibility of allocating millions of pounds of tax-payers' money to organisations over which they will have little control. In the case of the proposed Breckland Free School the school's trustees who have no democratic mandate have decided that a profit-making organisation, IES UK, can run its school. IES UK is a subsidiary of a Swedish firm, Internationella Engelska Skolan, which is owned 100% by one person. And yet the DfE was encouraging IES to become a free school provider as early as October 2010.

This raises the question of just how many profit-making firms were approached by the DfE. Did it also approach Nord Anglia, the firm behind the proposal to open an "ecology" school based on Steiner principles? Nord Anglia is a private company owned by Baring Private Equity Asia (aka Baring Asia) and Nord Anglia’s registered office, together with several UK subsidiary companies, was in Burton-upon-Trent before the company decided to close this office with the loss of 50 jobs and relocate to Shanghai and Hong Kong. An associated company Nord Anglia Education, Inc, was registered in the Cayman Islands in May 2010.

For further info re Nord Anglia plus references see my comment on this thread:

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/12/2011 - 11:35

The New Schools Network says: "In a School-provider model, proposers form the Academy Trust but they can outsource part or all of the running of the school to organisations with specific expertise e.g., site procurement or back office functions. Those organisations can be charitable, non-profit or commercial."

So NSN is not ruling out the use of profit-making firms despite all Mr Gove's assurances that there is no place for profit-making firms being involved at the moment.

NSN make it clear that whatever organisation actually runs the schools the responsibility for its performance remains with the Trustees. This means that the Trustees take on the risk and the organisation running the school is not held responsible if it fails.

It's a win-win situation for the organisation running the school. If it's a commercial firm it can take the profit and if it fails it still has its previously-earned profits but takes none of the responsibility of failure. It seems a very risky move by Trustees to hand over all the decisions to another organisation when they, the Trustees, shoulder all the risk.

Dis-Illusioned AA Campaigner's picture
Wed, 21/12/2011 - 12:06

"I thought one of the key virtues of free schools was supposed to be that they are parent-led."

Having seen the actions of fellow local anti-academy parents who stooped to a) bleating unsubstantiated claims of harassment and intimidation from the converting school b) allowing racist and aggressive personal comments to remain on their facebook group c) requesting that the young teenage members contact them privately about " what is going on at the school" and d) proposing a new aim to closely monitor and presumably distort anything the school does in the future ( irrespective of whether this would have happened under the LEA)

I have to say I am sceptical that parents should be allowed to lead school provision whatsoever.

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