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Education ‘The golden age of outsourcing’ / FRFI 215 Jun/Jul 2010

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

At the end of May, Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to every primary and secondary school in England urging them to opt out of local authority control and seek academy status; groups such as parents and teachers are to have powers to set up their own state-funded ‘free’ schools.

In reality this will mean the acceleration of a two-tier system in education, as high-performing schools in affluent areas are fast-tracked through to academy status, with greater autonomy over curriculum and staffing and the ability to select 10% of pupils by ‘aptitude’. The new government promises a ‘pupil premium’ for disadvantaged pupils, but in reality the new policies will further fragment the education system, exacerbating the divide between ‘outstanding schools’ that suck in resources, highly-qualified staff and middle-class pupils, and sink schools for the working class. Michael Gove is taking schools back to before the 1944 Education Act, when autonomous grammar school were distinct from, and privileged over, the local board schools.

Alongside this will go the privatisation of the education system, with private companies salivating at the opportunities that lie ahead in what City broker Seymour Pierce has described as a ‘golden age of outsourcing’, running schools on behalf of parents and other groups. In a market worth close to £2bn, many private companies already provide a huge raft of services to schools. Transport company SERCO is contracted by local authorities to run education services in Bradford, Walsall and Stoke-on-Trent. Some companies are exploring setting up ‘not-for-profit’ trusts to run schools, making their money by selling services back to these trusts! US education giant Edison, which already runs Turin Grove school in Enfield, north London, envisages huge ‘economies of scale’ if it can take charge of dozens, or even hundreds of schools, as it does in the US. GEMS, based in the United Emirates, runs 12 private schools in England and is eyeing the state sector. Former defence contractor VT runs education services in Surrey and the London Borough of Waltham Forest. Its managing director, Marcus Watson, a former British Aerospace engineer, told The Guardian: ‘Would we run schools? Only when the local community wants us to and when it would work, but emphatically, yes. We work with more than 50 local authorities, so it’s just an extension of what we do’.

Other government pledges include more faith schools, less ‘inclusion’ and more powers for heads to discipline children.

Cat Wiener

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