Brexit and the academy chains

Matthew Bennett's picture

Richard Tice is the CEO of Quidnet Capital LLP, an asset management firm specialising in real estate.  He joined the firm from CLS Holdings, a ‘multi-national property investment group with over £1 billion in assets’.  Tice is also the chairman of the Brexit Party, and, since May, an MEP for the East of England.  A co-founder of Leave.EU with Arron Banks, he is a director of Leave Means Leave.  He believes in a ‘clean break Brexit’, and recently condemned Johnson’s deal as a ‘twisted rehash of Theresa May’s worst deal in history’ which would leave the UK ‘tied into the level playing field’.

A lesser-known aspect of Tice’s career is his work as an education reformer.  In 2017, he co-authored a report on higher education, Timebomb:  how the university cartel is failing Britain’s students.  The report calls for a ‘consumer revolution’ to break open the ‘university cartel’ and allow more private providers to enter the higher ed market, eliminating the ‘artificial divide between public and private sectors’.  Timebomb was published by UK2020, the pro-Brexit think tank set up – and recently shut down – by Owen Paterson MP.  Like Leave Means Leave, UK2020 was based at 55 Tufton Street.

 United Learning

Tice’s interest in education goes back much further than 2017.  From 2004 until 2010, he was on the board of the United Learning Trust, England’s biggest academy chain.  ULT is an offshoot of the United Church Schools Trust, which runs a number of private fee-paying schools;  both organisations now trade under the name United Learning.  The former chair of Unilever UK, Richard Greenhalgh, currently heads United Learning’s Group Board.  Other present and former ULT trustees include the chair of OptiBiotix Health, a ‘life sciences business’; the former head of Diageo; the managing partner of a private equity firm; and a PR consultant.

Ten years ago, Francis Beckett – an astute observer of the early years of schools privatisation – noted that ULT already controlled ‘millions of pounds’ worth of public assets and property’.  The chain now runs 72 state-funded schools, having recently acquired the schools of the failed Silver Birch Academy Trust and another small chain.  United Learning does not apply the national pay framework set by the School Teachers’ Review Body, or the ‘Burgundy Book’ agreement on conditions of service.

 Freedom to manage

Back in 2004, as New Labour’s academies programme got underway, the newly-established United Learning Trust took over a struggling local authority school in Northampton, Lings Upper School, and renamed it the Northampton Academy.  Richard Tice – already a trustee of Uppingham School, his alma mater – became chair of governors at the new academy, and set out to revolutionise things using ‘a combination of business practice and independent sector techniques’.  This involved moving on the original headteacher, and other senior staff for whom the ‘learning curve’ proved too steep;  breaking the union, on the grounds that the ability to ‘fully manage and incentivise’ teachers is limited by nationally-agreed pay scales; and excluding  ‘some one per cent of children each year’, as well as setting up an ‘external exclusions centre’.  In a 2008 report for the Reform think tank, Tice argued that ‘the freedom of the independent management structure devised for academies is the main driver to [sic] their success’:

This freedom to make our own decisions on matters, big or small, was a shock for a number of parties, from staff, union representatives, through to LEA welfare officers and Social Services personnel.  A typical conversation would start with “you must do this...” to which I would reply, “Why? Who says?” usually followed by reminding people that we did not have to do anything under the old LEA rules.

The main recommendation of Tice’s report is that Independent Appeals Panels on school exclusions should be abolished (they were, in fact, replaced by Independent Review Panels in 2012).

 No need to panic

But Richard Tice is not the only Brexiteer with an interest in academies.  Another Uppingham old boy, the ‘serial investor’ David Ross, recently told the Evening Standard that ‘we have the entrepreneurial abilities to make Brexit work’ and ‘there’s no need to panic’.  His David Ross Education Trust continues to expand, and now controls 34 schools.

Suella Braverman MP, former chair of the ERG, believes that Theresa May’s deal would have left the UK permanently entangled in ‘one-sided “level playing field” obligations’.  As it happens, Braverman is also the co-founder of the Michaela Community School in Brent, a free school which has very publicly embraced the ultra-strict ‘no excuses’ culture of US charter schools.  As well as pushing for a ‘clean break Brexit’, Braverman recently called on Boris Johnson to commit to opening 100 free schools a year.

 Big money

A much more significant figure, however, is Sir Paul Marshall.  He is Chief Investment Officer of Marshall Wace Asset Management; he is worth £590 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List; and he has been deeply involved in politics since the days when, as a Lib Dem donor and adviser to Nick Clegg, he helped the Orange Book faction to turn their party away from ‘soggy socialism and corporatism’ and towards ‘economic realism’ – in other words, austerity, privatisation and deregulation.

Like his fellow hedge fund bosses Crispin Odey and Michael Hintze, Marshall gave thousands of pounds to Vote Leave; it was apparently a conversation with Marshall which convinced Michael Gove to abandon Cameron and join the Leavers.  Having made an initial investment in the Legatum Institute, Marshall launched his own pro-Brexit lobby group, Prosperity UK, in 2017.  Like UK2020, Prosperity UK campaigns for a ‘clean break’ or ‘WTO-based’ exit; it set up an Alternative Arrangements Commission, co-chaired by Suella Braverman, in an attempt to circumvent the ‘backstop trap’.  This year, Marshall was one of the donors to Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign – 75 per cent of whom were hedge fund bosses, City traders, or wealthy private investors.

 Vulture philanthropy

Marshall calls himself a ‘venture philanthropist’.  Like Richard Tice, he has a particular interest in academies.  He led the DfE’s non-executive board from 2013 until 2016; and he remains chair of the board of Ark Schools, England’s best-connected and most influential academy chain.  Five of Ark Schools’ ten trustees are from the alternative investment industry – four are hedge fund managers, including Marshall – and two are in the property business:  the CEO of Lendlease Europe and the MD of Barwood Capital, a ‘real estate development and investment specialist’.  None of the trustees have any background in education.

Ark runs 39 state-funded schools in England, and is also an aggressive promoter of ‘public-private partnerships’ in the Global South, via its Education Partnerships Group.  Ark’s Global Schools Forum works to create ‘a more supportive policy and funding environment for the non-state sector’ in education.  This includes for-profit operators of ‘low-fee’ private schools in Africa and India, like the US firm Bridge International Academies shortly to be investigated following complaints.

 States are running out of money…

Back in 2015, Paul Marshall gave the LSE £30 million to set up the Marshall Institute for Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship (he also bankrolls the Education Policy Institute).  In 2017, he gave a lecture at the Institute.  His theme was the shrinking of the state and the rise of what he calls the ‘voluntary sector’:

We have had in this country one of the most radical, bold and exciting reforms that the world has seen.  […]  Academies started the process of change, which is now on the road to completion, of handing the entire education system over to the voluntary sector.

According to Marshall, such radical reforms are necessary because ‘states are running out of money everywhere’.  Indeed.  Another long-term member of the Ark Schools board is Lord Fink, the former Conservative Party treasurer who made his name with the Man Group, an ‘active investment management firm’.  Fink was briefly in the spotlight back in 2015, when he threatened to sue Ed Miliband in a row over tax avoidance – before admitting to the use of some ‘vanilla’ measures.  After all, as Fink told the press at the time, ‘everyone does tax avoidance at some level’.  The Man Group is registered in Bermuda; Marshall Wace is registered in Dublin, after the bulk of the funds were moved from the Cayman Islands – in response, interestingly, to an EU directive.

Earlier this month, openDemocracy reported that two offshore companies, based in Panama and the British Virgin Islands, have large shareholdings in Richard Tice’s family business, Sunley Family Ltd.  Tice denies that he has any financial interest in either of the companies, or that he has avoided paying UK tax.  He told openDemocracy: ‘My support for Brexit is to bring back power and control to the UK, as a sovereign nation’.

CORRECTION 1 November 2019 08.31:  The original article said Tice had been on the ULT board 'nearly ten years, from 2004 until 2013.'   This was an error.  He was a board member from 2004 to 2010.  This has been corrected.

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agov's picture
Wed, 30/10/2019 - 11:14

And it's not like the international bankers and plutocrats in general who fund the pressure groups betraying the British electorate have any desire for any form of privatisation at all. Absolutely none. Just like the Blair gang who did so much to purge all privatisation from the public sector and have become so enriched. Clearly the only option is vote with admirers of the Venezuelan economic miracle and terrorist groups - oops, freedom fighters - around the world.

Matthew Bennett's picture
Thu, 31/10/2019 - 14:49

Correction: Richard Tice was on the board of the United Learning Trust from 2004 until 2010, not 2013 as stated in the article.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/11/2019 - 08:34

The error has been corrected

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