Exclusive: Bridge International Academies discussed controversial low-cost model with DfE

For-profit chain uses smartphones and tablets to allow staff to give identical scripted lessons. Concerns raised about unsanitary conditions and unqualified teachers in Bridge's Uganda schools

Martin George

Martin George

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Schools minister Lord Nash invited the controversial Bridge International Academies into the Department for Education to discuss its low-cost model of education, TES can reveal.

Last year’s meeting has been confirmed by the American for-profit company. Co-founder Shannon May told TES that the firm had been “asked by various parties” to open schools in the UK.

Bridge International currently educates more than 100,000 children in more than 500 nursery and primary schools in India, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Uganda, but it has ambitious expansion plans.

Scripted lessons

Ms May told TES that Lord Nash “asked us to meet with him to understand better the situation in the UK”. Bridge uses smartphones and tablets to allow staff to give identical, scripted lessons, with data being sent back to the US for analysis to ensure the teachers are turning up and delivering the classes, and to check how children are learning.

The company says its pupils perform better than those in neighbouring schools, but it has angered teaching unions. Last year, Uganda’s high court ordered the closure of all Bridge schools, citing unsanitary learning conditions and unqualified teachers. Bridge disputes these claims and won a ‘stay of execution’ in an appeal last month, preventing any immediate school closures.

A Bridge International spokesperson said: “Lord Nash and Shannon May met last year to discuss the innovative Bridge funding model and strategy to target under-served communities. Shannon talked about how the Bridge model could be useful for exploring ways to improve education delivery in countries around the world.”

Enormous efficiencies

The Bridge model is described as a delivery mechanism that “drives enormous efficiencies” in “overhead costs”.

Asked by TES whether Bridge would move into the UK, Ms May said it had been asked to open schools by “various parties” in the UK and US but had decided to instead “focus on where the greatest need is”. “I think it’s really important to us to continue to focus on truly marginalised populations,” she said.

The company spokesperson said: "Bridge has no plans to start schools in the UK."  ​

The DfE declined to comment on what it said was a private meeting.

This is an article from the 10 February edition of TES. Click here for more on how technology could change teachers' lives. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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