First state school to be run privately

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THE FIRST state school in Britain to be run by a privatecompany for profit may be open within two years.

Councillors in Surrey agreed yesterday to invite tenders to run Kings' Manor secondary school in Guildford in return for a fee and performance- related bonuses.

Three companies, Nord Anglia, the Council for British Teachers and the Edison project, which runs schools for profit in America, haveexpressed interest in running Kings' Manor, which was failed by inspectors last year.

Teachers reacted angrily and warned the Government not to start dismantling state education. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, who would be required to agree to the change, made clear that he would be open to any proposals put forward by Surrey provided they raised standards and did not involve more expense than a local authority school.

Kevin McNeany, the chairman of Nord Anglia, said he was planning "to throw his hat into the ring". He said: "There is nothing morally obnoxious about making a profit in education any more than there is in other public services, such as medicine. The ethical battle has been fought and won."

Surrey, a Conservative- controlled council, has moved faster and further than the Government, which wants business to be involved in running education action zones for under-achieving schools but which has said schools should not be run for profit. Under proposals considered yesterday by Surrey's education committee, the successful company would receive performance bonuses for good national test and GCSE results, increasing the number of children in the school, winning the confidence of the school's governors and avoiding bad reports from inspectors. Bonuses would be reduced by half if truancy or the number of exclusions rose above the county average.

The school, which can take 900 pupils, is half full. The tender document drawn by Dr Paul Gray, the council's director of education, suggests that a company running the school might receive pounds 200 extra each year for every pupil recruited at age 11. If the roll reached 150 a year, the company would receive pounds 90,000 a year after five years.

Dr Gray said: "Companies would have to be able to make a profit. Businesses involved in action zones are not there for the love of it."

The council said the bidding might include a consortium put together by the school's parents and governors. Councillors had considered closing the school. The tender document proposes that it should close in August 2000 and reopen immediately under new management.

Peter Smith, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "This is a Tory local authority playing politics with a Labour government. It would be an irony if a Labour government, of all governments, was to start dismantling the public education service."