AT least three of the biggest names in the education business are talking to ministers about taking over and setting up schools.
Nord Anglia, Cambridge Education Associates and the Centre for British Teachers want control of teaching and learning in schools contracted out to them for up to 30 years in deals that would enable them to employ staff.
They hope to take advantage of plans put forward by school standards minister David Miliband to extend the controversial private finance initiative.
Cambridge Education Associates, which has taken over education services in the London borough of Islington, will attempt to persuade ministers to accept its proposals by the end of May.
Under current rules, the only way a firm can be responsible for teaching and employ staff in a state school is by sponsoring a city academy.
But leading education entrepreneurs believe the academy initiative does not give them enough control and want to extend PFI contracts to cover teaching and learning.
"This could take private-sector involvement in education to another level," said Vincent McDonnell, CEA's operations director.
He said that contracts would contain clear performance indicators so that the school and companies would be judged on results. Staff would be employed by the firms.
Schools could be launched run by trusts made up of parents, local business and the LEA, an idea Mr McDonnell believes fits in with ministers' desire to improve schools' community links.
Kevin McNeany, chairman of Nord Anglia, which is involved in Waltham Forest, north London, said extending PFI was one of a number of options his firm was considering.
Private-sector management is key to the Government's building plans which proclaim a "once in a generation opportunity" to reform the pattern of secondary education and schools' infrastructure.
But a Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said: "We do not envisage the private sector ... becoming directly involved in delivering education."
John Bangs, National Union of Teachers head of education, said: "This is a recipe for at best muddle and confusion and at worst disaster. The Audit Commission (public spending watchdog) came up with some pretty damning evidence on conventional PFI."