James Tooley, a right-wing Newcastle University academic whose ideas include replacing A-levels and GCSEs with IQ tests and lowering the school- leaving age to 14, is chairman of the Education Partnership, a company closely linked with the New York-based Edison Project, an enterprise that aims to rejuvenate inner-city schools for profit.
Education Partnership is a leading contender in the race to take over King's Manor School, Guildford. Four bidders will present proposals to Surrey County Council next week. Professor Tooley said: "Our ambition is that King's Manor will be just the first of the schools we would take over. There are 25,000 schools in the country and we would like to see most of those as private institutions." The company would be "trail- blazing" ideas pioneered in the US by Edison, which runs 50 schools, using advanced technology, aggressive target-setting and zero tolerance of failure.
Professor Tooley, whose report last year on educational research infuriated academics, said his firm would also be registering interest in taking over Local Authority services after David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, said failing councils would have their tasks put out to tender.
Education Partnership includes Gareth Newman, head of Brooke Weston City Technology College in Corby, Northamptonshire, one of the pioneering specialist schools set up by the Conservatives to harness private investment for education, and World ORT, an international Jewish training group that has an extensive Internet operation.
Andrew Povey, the Surrey education chairman, said: "We are looking for somebody to come up with new ideas who will make a difference to this particular situation."
Surrey has been backed by the Tory education spokesman, David Willetts.
The issue represents a problem for Mr Blunkett, who said schools will not be run for profit but has accepted that private firms can offer management expertise in the same way as they provide school meals, cleaning and other services.
The largest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers, said it would not rule out legal action to prevent King's Manor being taken over.
Doug McAvoy, the General Secretary, said the Local Authority had to be responsible for turning round a school.
Other companies bidding for King's Manor also expressed interest in taking over failing Local Authority services. Contenders include Nord Anglia and CFBT, both leading educational consultancies and providers of school services.