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£1m private contract to run school not renewed

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 2 October, 2009 | By: David Marley

Controversial deal for the management of a state institution by a profit-making business ends next year

A ground-breaking experiment that handed the management of a state school to a profit-making business is to end next year.

The controversial three-year contract - the first and only of its kind - between Turin Grove School in Edmonton, north London, and education firm Edison will not be renewed when it ends next summer.

Instead it has been proposed to turn the school into one of a new wave of academies co-sponsored by London Mayor Boris Johnson, through the London Development Agency.

The conclusion of the Edison deal draws to a close a revolutionary move by a local authority to outsource the running of a school.

By the time it finishes, the company will have turned over around £1 million from a contract that takes the ban on running state schools for profit to its limit.

As part of the contract, Edison provides a senior management team. The arrangement also includes payment by results, in which the company receives a bonus for hitting certain targets but pays a penalty if it fails.

Martin Cocks, the chair of governors, said the school had made significant progress under the arrangement and that he was confident it had been the right decision.

However, he said that dealing with a company instead of a single headteacher had not been "without difficulties".

He also questioned whether the school could afford to renew the contract as its budget was getting tighter. He said that at the time the original deal was struck with Edison, the school had falling rolls, which had created some spare money. That is no longer the case.

"A contract costs money, so you have to make sure you target it in the right way. You have to make sure money is well spent, and really keep the pressure on," he said.

"I would not say everything has gone wonderfully, but on the whole we have had some really good improvement," added Mr Cocks. He pointed to improved exam results: the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs, including English and maths, stood at 27 per cent this year, up from 19 per cent in 2008. In 2007 the figure was 22 per cent. Discipline had also improved, with a dramatic reduction in the number of exclusions.

"The school has made a lot of progress, but it still needs some form of support," said Mr Cocks.

"Should we extend something like an Edison contract? We could, but it is quite expensive. We looked at all the options and the academy was the best one."

When the deal was first struck in April 2007, it was strongly criticised by the NUT for "filling the coffers" of a private company with money that could have been used to employ more teachers.

But Mark Logan, the managing director of Edison's UK operation, said: "The school is now very well placed for a stable and successful future. The results are the best they have had in many years. The outside agent was a very good way to make the changes that were needed."

As previously reported in The TES, Edison continues to be in discussion with a number of academies about striking management deals similar to the one entered into with Turin Grove, formerly known as Salisbury School.

The proposed academy to replace the school will be co-sponsored by the Academies Enterprise Trust, which already runs three academies in Essex.

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