Private firms bid for failing school

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST contest between private firms to take over a failing secondary school is about to begin.

Councillors in Surrey will meet on Monday to discuss proposals from three companies to turn round Kings' Manor comprehensive school in Guildford.

Last night the Department for Education said that it would not rule out the idea. Ministers are encouraging companies to take part in education action zones designed to raise standards in underachieving schools.

The three companies asked by Surrey County Council officers to submit plans are the Edison Project, which runs schools for profit in the United States, Nord Anglia, the largest commercial education organisation in the UK and CfBT, a non-profit making organisa- tion that provides education services.

Councillors will be asked to decide whether the school should be closed or given a fresh start with a new head, governors and staff.

Takeover and investment by a private firm will be only one of several options on the table but Dr Andrew Povey, chair of the education committee, said that he was very interested in the idea. He pointed out that the school's numbers had fallen sharply and inspectors reported in July that measures were needed to improve behaviour, attendance and pupils' progress.

"We feel that the only way we can make a success of it is by doing something really radical," he said.

"We are way ahead of the Government here. In reality, there is very little private sector involvement in the action zones and they are not giving the management of schools to outside parties."

If the idea of private-sector management is accepted, formal bids will be invited from companies.

Edison proposes that it would invest in the school and manage it in return for retaining excess income or a management fee.

Nord Anglia proposes a "Millennium school" specialising in information technology and business studies with a fee related to the school's performance.

CfBT would be interested in a specialist business school with 10 per cent selection of pupils and teachers receiving performance-related pay.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that the school should continue to be run by the local authority. "Earlier this year, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, committed himself to saying that education should not be run for private profit. We expect him to stick to that."

Greg Gardner, the school's head, said: "We have read about the privatisation proposals but we would expect that to be the result of a much more detailed consultation process following Monday's meeting."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Employment said: "We will consider any proposals when they are presented to us."