Private firm to 'market' school with falling roll

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The Independent Online

A Tory council is calling in a private company to help run another of its schools as moves towards more "privatisation" of state education gather pace. Surrey County Council, the first authority to invite a private company to manage a failing school, now wants a private-sector partner to manage a school never failed by inspectors.

Yesterday, Estelle Morris, the Schools minister, welcomed more private involvement in running state schools, including those that were already successful. Earlier this month, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, asked private companies to set up new city academies to replace failing schools.

In Surrey, a private company, the 3Es, is already running the former failing Kings' Manor school, now renamed Kings' College. The council wants to run another school, France Hill, in Camberley, in partnership with the private company. The firm would not have a majority on the governing body but it would have a contract and would have to meet performance targets for a fee.

France Hill was recently told by inspectors that it was improving, but it competes for pupils with two very successful schools and its numbers have fallen over four years. It is only 60 per cent full, with a budget deficit of £300,000.

Andrew Povey, the council's education chairman, said: "France Hill isn't a failing school in terms of the standard of education but it is failing to attract enough children to manage on its budget.

"We can't really promote one school against others in the same area. But we think it needs extra help in planning and marketing and we think it's easier to do this by bringing in a third party." The council says that he new arrangements for the school do not amount to privatisation.

Ms Morris did not comment on the specific case of France Hill but she told the House of Commons Education Committee: "What I want to get away from is the private sector only having involvement where there is a huge level of failure."

Later, she said: "If we are taking about a new ways to manage a school and the private sector wants to be involved - as long as it isn't for profit - I think we should be open to that."

She made a distinction between the management fee paid to companies which take over schools or local authority services and "profit". She added: "People need to be paid for what they do."

Surrey council is facing legal action from the National Union of Teachers over plans by 3Es to make six senior teachers redundant at Kings' College. The NUT says that the plan breaks employment law guaranteeing public-sector jobs.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the union, said the NUT was concerned about its members at France Hill. He believed the council was "not seriously considering other possible courses of action".