What do parents do if they have a complaint about an academy? Follow the laid-down procedure, says Gove, which includes a hearing with panel appointed by the proprietor.

Janet Downs's picture
The Education Funding Agency (EFA) is ultimately responsible for dealing with complaints about academies, so said Secretary of State, Michael Gove, in his letter to the Education Select Committee. However, parents with complaints must follow the academy’s procedure for dealing with complaints. This procedure must comply with The Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2010. These rules state that the complaints procedure is not exhausted until parents have been through three stages:

1 An informal stage where the complaint could be resolved by, say, discussion with a senior member of staff;

2 A formal complaint stage where the complaint is put in writing, and

3 A hearing with a panel appointed by or on behalf of the proprietor.

The “proprietor” is not a misprint. It is the only word which describes the “ownership” of an academy. Mr Gove’s description of the complaints procedure for academies does not include anything about “charities”, “Trustees”, or “Governors”. The word is “proprietor”.

It is all too clear where the Government’s academy policy is leading – to a time when academies have a proprietor and when "the deconstruction of the education function within local authorities" offers a clear potential to "make a substantial return to investors" (Zenna Atkins, ex-Ofsted chair, director of Wey Education). And we must remember the words of Sam Freedman, Mr Gove’s special advisor, who said as long ago as 2008 that when profit-making firms become involved in education, "They are not interested for altruistic reasons. It's an investment."

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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sat, 09/06/2012 - 11:02

All very alarmist and emotive, but it leaves out the simple fact that in each and every case the proprietor is a charitable trust, not some fat cat with a cigar and a homburg.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 09/06/2012 - 13:41

The dictionary definition of "proprietor" is owner. Unless proprietor is another victim of doublespeak. I can hear Napoleon at Animal Farm:

"My fellow animals. Do not be alarmed by the word "proprietor". It does not mean as it did in the days of Farmer Jones. No, Comrades, "proprietor" now has a more benevolent meaning - a charitable trust. Of course, if, in the future we pigs decide that proprietors can in fact be owners, do not be alarmed, the deconstruction of the education function can make a substantial return to investors while standards will rise until all animals are average. Although some animals, of course, will be more average than others."

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sat, 09/06/2012 - 13:56

The dictionary definition of “proprietor” is owner.

Quite so. There is no doublespeak involved. The academy trust is the owner. Other schools are owned by foundation trusts, dioceses and local authorities. What's the difference? What's the big deal?

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 09/06/2012 - 15:00

Given Mr Gove's well-known support for profit-making firms I think any reference to proprietorship in regard to schools is enough to set alarm bells ringing. While it is true that at the moment the Academy Trust owns the assets, the Academy Trust is non-profit making. Should the time come when profit-making firms are allowed to own state schools (and there is no doubt that this is Gove's intention) then there would be no need to change the law because the word "proprietor" is slippy enough to encompass a change in meaning from Academy Trust (non-profit making) to private firm hoping to make a return on its investment.


“At present academy sponsors are barred from making a profit. There is no
legislative reason why profit should not be allowed (these schools are simply classified as independent schools)." This statement is from a joint Policy Exchange/New Schools Network document published before the last election. The New Schools Network, as you will be aware, is the organisation given the Government contract to promote free schools.


Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 09/06/2012 - 16:14

Many American charter schools are "owned" by "proprietors". There are the big three philanthropists - Walton Foundation, Gates Foundation and Broad Foundation - but many smaller ones and they have all contributed hundres of millions of dollars to their free market-led ideology of state funded education. What has been happening over their is alarmist, not just because the billions poured into so-called education "reform" in the guise of charter schools has spectacularly failed to raise American standards above the average but because education policy is not dictated by what is best for American children of all socio-economic groups and ethnicities but by what "Philanthropists" want to impose.

We are seeing the same virus infecting our schools in England and Gove has deliberately sold our state school system so that the fantastically wealthy like the carpet man - forgotten his name - who has donated millions to the Tories can "own" schools. I think most communities like to feel that they are shareholders in their local schools and not grateful peasants allowed through the sanctum.

Gove's decision to follow a failed and corrupt American model is no mystery once you put his policies into the context of all the different ways the Tories are dismantling public services and handing them over for profit to their mates. Jeremy Hunt was caught red-handed trying to hand BSkyB over to the great philanthropist Rupert Murdoch. This would have had a disastrous impact on the BBC, a publicly funded body and one who has to hand over millions of its licence fee to the parastic Sky so that the latter can use its platform to transmit programmes that can be accessed without a Sky subscription. We can thank Margaret Thatcher for this, as it was the Heartless Lady herself who demanded the BBC pay Sky £10m a year.

Alarmist? Not really. What I also find really alarming about Gove is that he thought it helpful to tell us that the Culture Minister was a fab lambada dancer and that “If you ever want anyone to liven up your party by cutting the rug with dash and distinction… then Jeremy is the man to invite.” I can't think of anyone worse, with the possible exception of Shepherd's Market and Krug man Jeffrey Archer

Sarah's picture
Sat, 09/06/2012 - 19:08

The only schools which were previously 'owned' were those in the private sector. Sure, local authorities, Dioceses and trusts had legal ownership of land and buildings but they didn't 'own' the institution, they funded it/supported it and had a democractic interest in it.

The idea that our public institutions can be 'owned' lock, stock and barrel is a disgrace. It does nothing to improve them educationally and removes the public interest and involvement in them. Once they are 'owned' we cease to have any real say in what happens inside them even if we are footing the bill.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 09/06/2012 - 15:21

"I think any reference to proprietorship in regard to schools is enough to set alarm bells ringing."

I think the alarm bells should already be ringing loud and clear and relentlessly because Michael Gove came into power with a mission to make people believe that shutting down the infrastructure of state education and the consultative bodies would 'improve professional freedom and therefore education'.

Now this was always blatantly untrue - what was needed to improve professional freedom and therefore education was very obviously a dual policy of reforming Ofsted to make it fit for purpose (which could have been rapidly done simply by obliging it to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act) and working to end narrow high stakes assessment for students up to the age of 14 and replace it with something far more effective and less constraining (which could easily have been done in the life of a parliament had he actually been interested in that agenda).

Given that
1. he clearly never had any interest in professional freedom
2. he has systematically pursued policies which were clearly going to compromise it rather than improve it,
3. he seems to have systematically and ruthlessly ensured anyone who was really interested in appropriate professional freedom was removed from their jobs

What were his motives?

Or was he just a gullible man with a tendency for hero worship who was sufficiently inexperienced in everything to become an unwitting puppet for News Corp/Pearson agenda?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 09:22

Once they are ‘owned’ we cease to have any real say in what happens inside them even if we are footing the bill.

As if customers had absolutely no say or influence in a market... *holds head in hands*.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 23:48

"As if customers had absolutely no say or influence in a market… *holds head in hands*"

Indeed - schools have to spend far to much time focusing on their obligations to Ofsted and this severely compromises their abilities to focus on what studetns need and want and what parents can offer. *wonders if Ricky is still lost in the fantasy world of belief that parents would rather move their children several times than improve things where they are and that Michael Gove is going to give everyone loads of school options.*

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 10:48

Well they don't in American charter schools. This is why a signifant number of them are being sued by states and the schools themselves. Which parent - sorry, "customer" - should resort to the stress and expense of court action when a local authority - or middle tier, which even Wilshaw has indicated may be necessary - should do the work? In Academies and Free Schools, the "customer" has very little say. They aren't even much represented on the governing board.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 09/06/2012 - 13:31

What do parents do if the school won't convene a "A hearing with a panel appointed by or on behalf of the proprietor" promptly at a time the parents can attend?

Sarah's picture
Sat, 09/06/2012 - 19:10

and what happens if they remain dissatisfied after the panel has responded?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 08:40

sarah - according to Mr Gove, when the complaints procedure is exhausted, then parents can approach the Education Funding Agency (EFA). However, the EFA "can only investigate whether the Academy considered the complaint appropriately. If the EFA finds that an Academy did not consider a complaint appropriately it can request the Academy to re-consider the complaint."

The EFA "cannot review or overturn decisions about complaints made by Academies" so even if the parent's complaint is valid s/he will not get it overturned if the Academy considered the complaint "appropriately" ie went through the laid down procedures. Quite what happens if the Academy has treated a child unjustly is unclear.

I'm sure that parents who were persuaded that academy conversion was a good idea were not told that if they have a genuine complaint about how an academy dealt with their child they can't expect an unjust decision to be overturned if the academy follows the correct procedure.


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 09:05

From 1st August, Local Authorities will no longer have any role in dealing with complaints about maintained schools either. The LGO Ombusdsman's schools complaints service will also close.

Each school will have to have a complaints procedure, and anyone unsatisfied with that has to go to DfE.

Academies and maintained schools will actually be in much the same position.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 10:31

Ricky - please could you provide a link to information about the role of LAs in dealing with complaints about maintained schools after August 1. Is there any change to the statutory duty of LAs to deal with complaints about the curriculum in LA maintained schools? I am unsure that LAs will be able to ignore complaints about school staff in their maintained schools as such staff are employed by the LA. Surely LAs still have a responsibility as employer to deal with complaints about their own staff?

And can you link to information which says the Local Government Ombudsman will stop receiving complaints about such things as school transport, exclusions and some aspects of SEN? Or is it only the pilot scheme whereby the LGO handled complaints from certain LAs which ceases on 31 July 2012?


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 11:02

Is there any change to the statutory duty of LAs to deal with complaints about the curriculum in LA maintained schools?



Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 12:37

Ricky - thank you. I notice that the new guidance says: "For most local authorities, their duty to consider complaints about the curriculum, sex education and religious worship in maintained schools will be removed."

This raises further questions:

1 Which LAs are not covered by "most"?
2 What about complaints to LAs about school transport,exclusions and some aspects of SEN etc?
3 What about complaints concerning school staff employed by LAs?
4 Which authority/organisation deals with complaints about bullying or something the parent regards as unfair treatment which are not resolved at school level?

Does the Education Funding Agency know that it will be responsible for complaints about the curriculum, sex education and religious education? Or will parents take the instructions literally and write to the DfE? I can see the letter now: "Dear Mr Gove, I wish to complain about my son having to squash a banana into a condom..."

andy's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 13:11

May I (gently) interject the following suggestions:

2. School transport is likely to remain with LAs on the basis that there has been no contra indication that this will revert to individual schools. Exclusions and SEN issues will become school complaints which when exhausted will be escalated to DFE.
3. School staff will probably be differentiated by the type of school. E.g.: Maintained schools remain a school/governors and thence LA domain whereas Academies and Free Schools will follow the internal procedure before escalating to the DFE
4. This is likely to follow the framework outlined at (3) above

As indicated in the quotation these issues will follow internal school procedures before escalation to DFE.

If you enjoy conspiracy theories may I further suggest that this is in line with the political goals of the Conservative Party (i.e. the emasculation/dismantling of Local Authority input/influence in the direct running of schools).

A potential response to the disgruntled parent may just go along the lines of:

Dear Disgruntled Parent, I was sorry to learn of your son's unhappy experience and have written to the school suggesting that in future greater care is taken to ensure that they either purchase bigger condoms or smaller bananas. I hope this will avoid any further difficulties or embarrassment for other pupils. Yours sincerely ...


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 13:12

Which LAs are not covered by “most”?

I guess the ones that were part of the LGO pilot you alluded to.

I can see the letter now: “Dear Mr Gove, I wish to complain about my son having to squash a banana into a condom…”

I dare say the SoS is well used to receiving even sillier letters than that from the AAA, the teacher unions and so on.

andy's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 12:37

Janet, If I understand the legislative situation accurately it must also be remembered that the Education Act to which you refer covers the entire independent school sector (i.e. Academies, Free Schools, Privately owned and Independent fee-paying schools). On that basis the wording of the 2010 Act is quite deliberately couched in terms that are inclusive of the entire range of independent schools and thus may not represent the understandable concern it clearly raises for you.

It surely is nonetheless reassuring that if the stages are followed there is the channel to take it outside of the school at the centre of the complaint and escalate it upwards.

The steps you outline are not that different to that operated outside teaching. For example, before taking a case to the Information Commisioners Office under either the Data Protection or Freedom of Information Acts one must (1) informally chase the recipient for a reply (2) lodge a formal complaint with the recipient (3) refer the matter to the ICO. Another example might be the legal profession where one must (1) raise an informal complaint with the solicitor involved (2) escalate it the the Head of Department (unless they were the solicitor at (1)) before (3) issuing a formal complaint to the firms internal customer relations department. If still unsatisfied you can then take the matter to the Legal Ombudsman (and thence to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority).

I hope this illustrates that education (academies and free schools) are not being treated (protected) favourably over other schools or other walks of life.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 12:57

andy - my post was not so much about the complaints procedure (although its gone off in that direction). My concern was with the word "proprietor". It may, as you say, be an attempt to be "inclusive of the entire range of independent schools" (although I don't see how the Education Funding Agency can be expected to accept complaints from parents in fee-paying schools). However, the wording leaves the door open for state schools to be run by proprietors which could be private, profit-making firms.

It's rather like the "any good education provider" mentioned in the Conservative Manifesto. How many people thought that could include profit-making firms? The LibDems didn't think so. However, by putting this in their manifesto Gove can say that people voted for it. Words can be very slippery.



andy's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 13:41

As I said earlier, I understand where your fears are coming from and am not dismissive of them. It may prove interesting and pontentially fruitful to research the archives to see what to Acts said prior to 2010 - did proprietor creep in under Gove or pre-exist him under Labour?


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 14:09

Excellent point, Andy.

And indeed, you are right, Labour's Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2003, which the new regs replace, used the term 'proprietor' throughout and in relation to complaints says:

...where the parents are not satisfied with the response to the complaint made in accordance with paragraph (e), makes provision for a hearing before a panel appointed by or on behalf of the proprietor ...

So not much change there!

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 14:30

Just as I suspected - Blair, Adonis et al were in thrall to business, hence the deception that's been going on about academies since they began:


The perception that certain Labour politicians were secretly in favour of profit-making schools appeared in the Policy Exchange/New Schools Network 2010 document, Blocking the Best. Two years before that another politician told the BBC Politics Show that while he approved of philanthropic organisations running schools he was not in favour of schools being run for money:

"The trouble with allowing companies to make a profit from providing schools is that it take money out of the education system, significant sums of money out."

This was not, however, a Labour politician. It was a Conservative one - and he's now Minister of State for Schools. I do hope he keeps repeating these words to his boss.

andy's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 16:58

Janet, please forgive me for this as it is very diffult to find a way of saying this in a neutral voice, which is what I desparately want to achieve. I fear that my perception of your post expresses surprise at the reality of New Labour movement and period whereas it was absolutely cler from the outset that Blair perpertrated a heinous crime against the labour movement when he stole the Conservative clothes to win the middle England vote and effective turned British politics on its head by creating a US style scenario. That is to say, the US Democrats are 'conservatives' whereas the Republicans are 'Conservatives'. There is no such thing a UK Labour style socialism in the US system and Blair effective took New Labour into the 'conservative' zone and thereby replicated the US political system. So no-one should be least but surprised that they - Blair/Brown et al - cozied up to Murdoch and big business. The Labour Academies through PFI were no better than the sponsored Free Schools and new Academies. They all allow profiteering at the taxpayers expense.

For me it falls into two parts: (1) reducing the public financial input by avoiding capital expenditure (or so they thought - PFI running costs are astronomical) (2) getting big business on their side (through sponsorship and the latent silver lining of making profits through running schools wholesale). In that regard the double standards and disingenuity of all political parties is laid bare. You can change the rhetoric and dress things up any way you like but the truth will always come out when the fruits are there for all to see.

I just hope that other contributors to this sight who appear to live life through rose tinted glasses and nostalgia can accept that the issue of schools for profit and false hopes pinned on Academies does not lie exclusively with the Coalition - their own beloved party has played more than its full part in the unfolding scenario.

One thing the Finns got absolutely spot on was keeping all political ideologies out of education.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 19:28

You should be rather more careful than to assume that those who oppose the coalition's education and other policies are members of, or vote for, a "beloved [labour] party". And even if they did, you will find that many Labour supporters have, for decades, been campaigning for a more equal state education system and were crtitical of aspects of Labour's education policies. One thing that sets Labour aside from the Tory-led coalition - Academies were founded in deprived areas where education was failing the local community. The current government have bastardized the programme, by converting any school to Academy status, regardless of whether they want it or not, through financial 'incentives' and often without the school fully understanding what Academization would mean for them long term, beyond the cash "bribery".

Under New Labour, there were no Free Schools and no new grammar schools (satellite grammars are. for all intents and purposes, new grammars). Would Labour have demolished the role of local authorities in education? Unlikely - their Academies were still part of the local authority family. Would Labour have trasnformed the schools landscape by trying to turn every school into a free-standing Academy in a handful of years? Again, unlilkely.

All decisions affecting the country are political and ideology plays a bit part in politics. They are inseparable. The problem with Gove's ideology is that it is inflexible, propped up by his inner circle of advisers, the vast majortiy of whom are not, and have not been, educators. What is frightening is that he listens only to what he wants to hear. What he is hearing is the ideology of the American school reform movement, whose backers are billionaire philanthropists who have effectivecly paid for political influence. American education policy is driven, and influenced by, the very wealthy. And it has failed to raise the US beyond the average.

The Finns did not keep political ideology out of education. They decided back in the 1970s and 1980s that their ideal would be to close the inequality gap and they passed laws to achieve this and these laws paved the way for all Finnish children to have equal access to excellent state funded and maintained schools. If only Gove and the current incumbents at Number 10 had the same ideology of equality. Under the Tory-led Coalition, the unemployed are bussed in to work as stewards unpaid, and treated like animals, for profit-making companies whilst the monarchy and the Establishment spend three days reasserting the advantages of hereditary, financial and social privelege at a time when Cameron, Osborne and the rest of them have increased poverty, unemployment and the numbers of the disenfranchised.

andy's picture
Mon, 11/06/2012 - 07:40

Allan, I am mindful of what you say but personally I am heartily sick and tired of the politicking and ideological tug of war the main parties have indulged in re education. They never put the educational needs of the child and/or nation first, their preference is for what they see as vote winning panacea approaches and media catching rhetoric. That said, the original CTCs and Blunkett lead restart strategies did resembly attempts at trying to pull things around but between these we ended up with Academies and latterly (new) Acadmies and Free Schools. I'm afraid to say that the New Labour Academy programme did not require them (the academies) to remain within the LA family: they were independent of LA control. Yes, I agree that the new/converter academies have involved financial incentives through direct funding that avoids the LA top slicing. One may all it a bribe, others may call it getting full not artificially reduced funding, either way it is nothing new and I seem to recall that Blair was pushing for Fair Funding in 1997-99, which amounted to the same thing. That is to say, the education department calculates each schools funding level and paid it directly to them - cutting out the LEAs. I distinctly recall the HT of my school at the time waxing lyrical to staff about getting back the money he considered the LEA siphoned off.

From a personal perspective, and as I have said before on this forum and others, I believe that the goal of the converter academies and free schools is to emasculate/dismantle the input LAs have on education and restrict them monitoring and forecasting demographic trends and the like and the dimunition/breaking of teaching as a degree qualification profession, the restriction of teaching union power and last but by no means least a money saving exercise through lower salaries and reduced pension libaility. Irrespective of ones views on this, it is entirely in keeping with the long time held goal of the Conservative Party.

As for the Finns, their slow but inexorable and enviable educational revolution simply couldn't have happened without the political Right and Left deciding to stop pulling in different directions and agreeing to work together. Prior to that they too suffered the polemical seesaw / tug of war games over education. To do this they essentially set aside party politics and agreed that education was fundamental to the nations future and depoliticised it. Permit me to quote from a Finnish source:

"... equality in Finland does not mean the exact same education for all, it means equal access to excellent, individualized education. It is a system where the school is there for the student – not the other way around."

Sirkku Nikamaa-Berg,Educator at Work in Progress Teacher, English and Swedish Kasavuoren Koulu at Kasavuoren Koulu, Kauniainen (Linkedin 8 Jun 12)

"... Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians ... “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers union."


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 11/06/2012 - 13:43

andy - I have always been critical of the academy programme and suspected right from the start that it was an attempt to involve businesses in education which could lead to conflicts of interest (as the National Audit Office report later warned against - see FAQs above). And then there was the "cash for honours" scandal. When I wrote above, "Just as I suspected...", I meant it confirmed what I already knew. However, until Ricky pointed it out I didn't know they had enshrined ownership of schools by "proprietors" into law.

Like you, I am sick of all political parties using education to further their own ends. We've had the unedifying sight of Blair crowing over the 2000 PISA figure for the UK (despite having only been in office for 2 years) and then using deception to show how academies were better than any other type of school. Now we have Gove scarcely able to conceal his delight that the UK has "plummetted down the league table in ten years" even though the 2000 figures are flawed and the OECD has warned against using them for comparison. He knows about the OECD warning - he just ignores it. His endgame is, of course, opening the door so that private, profit-making firms can take over schools and run "branded" chains. In this he was helped along by the policies of Blair and Adonis as he never stops reminding us.

The CTCs were a Tory idea which didn't really take off. Only 13 were established. Of those 13, most converted to academy status under Labour. And most of them have an ability level skewed to the top end so aren't the all-ability schools they are meant to be. Doesn't stop Gove etc saying how wonderful most of the ex-CTCs are doing - they should do, if they've only got a tiny percentage of low attainers and a large proportion of high attainers.



Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 12/06/2012 - 08:09

I believe that the goal of the converter academies and free schools is to emasculate/dismantle the input LAs have on education..

I'd say that's not so much a 'goal' as a fortunate side-effect.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 12/06/2012 - 08:57

"I’d say that’s not so much a ‘goal’ as a fortunate side-effect."

Are you one of these anarchic libertarians who believes that everything will improve if nothing is democratically consulted or planned?

I'm afraid my perspective is different as I've seen the benefits coherent planning used to bring here and still brings in Scotland, I've seen the very hard work LAs still do in the toughest situations and I believe in professional empowerment through democracy rather then deprofessionalisation through dictatorship. I think having a complaints route which feeds into local democracy is essential.

I've also never met anyone who can coherently argue that dismantling local planning will do anything other than collapse with expensive consequences.
Would you try to do that please Ricky?
Or is your delight in destroying LAs just a gut instinct that it will be fun to do that?

andy's picture
Tue, 12/06/2012 - 17:14

Ricky, I have no love of or for LAs because over the decades they have proven to be patchily effective and collectively wasted £100s millions through inefficiency and ineffectiveness and top slicing to create support roles for many consultants and advisors who simply couldn't hack it. All that is invariably to the detriment of schools and their pupils. That said, I also accept and recognise that there have been some consistently good/high quality LAs but they have been few and far between. I cannot speak about Scotland but they are autonomous re education and have been years, and hence aren't wrestling with converter academies and free schools the way England is.

However, make no mistake this is not an "fortunate side-effect". It has been a Conservative party goal for decades e.g. Thatcher tried and failed as did Major. I'm on the side of students and their education not party political ideologues from either the left or the right. All they do is use education as political play thing and it is way too important to be treated so shamefully and distainfully.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 12/06/2012 - 22:36

Andy I agree with the main paragraph of your post. Your position is mine too.

However I have a different position on history of Conservative policy. In expressing it it is not my intention to contradict your perspective, quite the opposite I am happy for you to expand on your views of history. I suspect my different perspective is simply a reflection on the variety of views which exist and have existed within the Conservative party.

I grew up among people who were at the heart of and deeply understood Thatcher's reforms. The people I knew did not see them as being absolute objectives in themselves but as policies which were relevant from getting Britain from today to tomorrow at the time when they were implemented.

So for example the fight with the trade unions was not intended to destroy the unions which are of course a functional aspect of democracy. It was about rebalancing power until good management had the ability to manage well. The view by those at the heart of these reforms was that that job was completely done - perhaps too well - but there is not a perfect balance point. 'Attacking the unions' was not their policy - reforming union law to make it possible for British industry to function was the objective and it was achieved. Clearly there are some idealists in the Conservative party who are hell-bent on the destroying the unions but I don't think they are representative of all conservatives. For example I comment extensively on John Redwood's blog and I see none of it there. Similarly the old guard of the Tories were quite vocal in expressing their concern regarding attacks made on the unions by specific groups of Conservatives during the strikes about pensions.

And similarly you have a split in thinking about privatisation. The same group who seem to be out to destroy the unions seem intent on privatising everything. But I lived among people who again saw privatisation as being a pragmatic thing driven by deeper ideals and contextual circumstances. In the 1980s getting British infrastructure functioning efficiently (or in some cases functioning at all) was a huge priority, as was cutting costs and raising capital. At that time that we had to a great extent lost our ability to effectively reform and modernise much our our state infrastructure within the pre-ICT state systems which were operating then so they had become undemocratic and unresponsive. Privatisation offered a solution to this for some services. However I was party to discussions which concluded that this thinking should not apply to schools and the NHS as they were operating differently. I was also lucky enough to be exposed to the thinking about the contradictions and problems of privatisation within the Conservative party then which did not, of course, become part of history and sadly seem not to be understood by the anarchic libertarians within the Conservative party who strangely seem to hold so much power.

Conservative policy should be about personal freedom and freedom of choice. Unfortunately Gove seems to have interpreted this in a very narrow way as being about the freedoms people have to choose between schools and to have totally ignored the reality that most people are actually more interested in having the freedom to impact positively on and interact constructively with their child's local school and that the effective mechanisms for them doing this are not those of them being allowed to start a different school. They are more complex. In particular those working in local schools need a significant degree of appropriate professional freedom if parental engagement is to flourish.

Rosemary Mann's picture
Sun, 10/06/2012 - 19:15

As a parent, the prospect of having to deal with a 'proprietor' in respect of my childrens schooling makes my blood run cold. My younger children go to a private nursery and have done for some time. Its run very well and I have a great relationship with the owner and the staff and my children love it. She works very hard at ensuring standards are kept up and that the parents and children are happy. She does however have some very prudent business managers who decide on the pricing policy so to an extent the more difficult side of the job is taken out of her hands. As a rule I dont however like dealing with 'proprietor's in general however despite their being very nice and reasonable and look forward to state school for that reason. I also know that to have a good relationship is relatively rare and probably cant be replicated other than outside a nursery or pre school setting due to the increased scale and nature of the educational offer. Nurseries are generally very cuddly places with few achievement expectations on the children and of the staff other than to provide a warm ., loving and safe environment, something my nursery does very well. I live in dread that our educational options for our children will be either Harris, E-act or some other institution where dealing with an unaccountable governing body and a 'proprietor' will be required. For me it doesnt sit easy. I had some private medical treatment out of necessity over a period of years and I didnt like that either nor did I trust it as I felt you got the treatment that they were prepared to give you under your payment plan and not necessarily the one likely to achieve the best outcome.

I don't disagree that New Labour were equally culpable for this scenario but think thats somehow irrelevant now and would support the idea of keeping political idealogy out of education but could not say how that would work in the UK. What I am sure of however is the term proprietor is alien to the concept of a good education in my mind. I once thought that we would send our older daughter, then an only child, to a local private girls school with great results however further investigation made me think otherwise. I could not deal with 'proprietors' on a daily basis and a system with limited accountability. For me the concept of a state education for all is still the ultimate goal. No proprietors here please- just experienced educators!

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 11/06/2012 - 13:42

As a parent, the prospect of having to deal with a ‘proprietor’ in respect of my children’s schooling makes my blood run cold.

Snakes alive, what a dramatic reaction! Do you suffer similar chills when encountering proprietors in other contexts - as, say, a diner in a restaurant, a customer in a shop or a fare hailing a cab?

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 11/06/2012 - 13:57

I think roslyn shares the opinion of Nick Gibb, schools minister: “The trouble with allowing companies to make a profit from providing schools is that it take money out of the education system, significant sums of money out.”

And remember that Cognita, the profit-making firm set up by ex-Ofsted chief inspector to run schools (he admitted he was motivated by the thought of cashing in when he sold the firm on), was accused of "milking" the Southbank International School for profit. Also in my original post I quote comments by Zenna Atkins (another ex-Ofsted person) and Sam Freedman (Gove spad) about how much money can be made out of education in England.

Remember, it's not altruism that drives private-firms to become involved in education, its an investment. But the collapse of Southern Cross should be a warning about what can happen when the care of vulnerable people is put in the hands of those whose primary purpose is to make money.

I think this is the aspect of proprietorship that is making roslyn's blood run cold.




andy's picture
Mon, 11/06/2012 - 17:56

Janet, I don't think that Cognita is a good example: (1) they are fee-paying and not taxpayer funded (2) they are not registered as charities. In other words they are total private education company and irrespective what any of us think/feel about the underlying motivation Cognita is above criticism from the public sector. The group were set up to sell education and that is exactly they do.

It would however be different if taxpayer funded state schools - maintained or independent academies or free schools - were handed over to private companies to run for profit (e.g. IES).

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 12/06/2012 - 08:46

andy - Cognita is a good example of what can happen when profit-making firms get involved in something like education. It doesn't matter that it's not taxpayer funded. Neither does it matter that it isn't a charity. What matters is that it was charging parents between £4000 and £7400 per term and a group of these parents thought Cognita was "milking" the school for profit. They accused Cognita of turning the London school into a "money-making machine". Cognita was indeed "selling education" but according to the parents it wasn't delivering the expected standard and was more concerned with profit.

Cognita was initially interested in the free schools programme so could have been involved in state-funded schools. And IES has been awarded a contract to run Breckland Free School. IES claims that the British Government actively sought them out to run free schools in England (see second link below).

Remember, it's not altruism that motivates profit-making firms to become involved in education, it's an investment (Sam Freedman, Gove spad).



andy's picture
Tue, 12/06/2012 - 17:04

Janet, I fear we are going to have to agreee to disagree over Cognita. As I understand it the fees at the Cognita Schools did not radically change when they cease to be charitable status fee-paying schools and were bought out by the wholly private group. That being the case the parents can't complain about being milked because despite any increase in operating costs these don't appear to have been passed on. In any event parents have to option of removing their children and either placing them in a different fee-paying school or applying for a place at a local state school. The bottom line (not pun intended) is that Cognita has commoditised education and is selling as a product and the customer (parents) will either use it or go elsewhere. So to be honest I have little/no sympathy for the parents who have options that state parents simply don't. Additionally, Woodhead has always admitted that he saw the school chain as a medium/long term investment that he hoped would realise a healthy profit when it was eventually sold on.

However, I am implacably opposed the IES example and would be equally opposed to Cognita or any other private company running any state school for profit. This closely followed by my hositility to PFI which duped the taxpayer with its long term costs.

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