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Free school outsources teaching to private firm

A free school in the North West has struck a deal with a private company to outsource the teaching of two its qualifications from this September, TES can reveal.

Sandymoor School in Runcorn has entered into a contract with Liverpool-based firm, Educate Me, to deliver two BTEC qualifications in sport and exercise science and enterprise and entrepreneurship.

The news comes just a week after it emerged that the country’s largest academy chain, Academies Enterprise Trust, was looking at contracting out all non-teaching roles at its 80 schools to the private sector in a deal worth up to £400m.

The deal between Sandymoor and Educate Me is thought to be the first instance where a school has handed control of its teaching to an external company.

Headteacher Andy Green-Howard said that he was utilising the flexibility open to him as a free school, adding that the company provides expertise that he would otherwise have been unable to have secured.

“They have tremendous amounts of expertise in this area and they are a team qualified in both higher and further education,” Mr Green-Howard said. “If I were to try to do it, I would need four lecturers and teachers delivering the course, whereas they will be bringing in their own experts.

“The contract is very, very clear that their staff will be compliant to our disciplinary procedures, our quality assurances and our lesson observations. The only difference would be that if I had a concern, rather then go to the teacher directly, I go to the company. I have total control otherwise.”

Mr Green-Howard admitted the move could prove controversial, but insisted that it offered “the best of both worlds”, although he said he would not consider outsourcing for academic subjects.

“With the enterprise and entrepreneurship course, [Educate Me] has levels of expertise that we just wouldn’t be able to offer,” he said. “And this is what it comes down to, I would always want to appoint my own English or science teachers but trying to find qualified staff in entrepreneurship is much harder.”

Sandymoor, which opened in September 2012, was judged by inspectors to be a good school with outstanding leadership in an Ofsted report released last month.

Responding to a question on the issue of free schools outsourcing teachers earlier this week, education secretary Michael Gove said he was open to innovative ideas around teacher recruitment but would be concerned if heads were not appointing teachers themselves.

“If a head has a particularly exciting way of casting the net wider to recruit teachers it would be foolish to dismiss it out of hand before we saw what it involved,” Mr Gove told TES. “But I would have thought the single most important thing that a headteacher can do is recruit their staff.”

The news that a free school was contracting out teaching was met with concern from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which claimed that it was the “creeping end of privatisation” in the state school sector.

“Michael Gove says there won't be for profit in schools, but we know that is just not true,” Mary Bousted, general secretary, said. “This is just another example of a whole network of ways in which the private sector is making vast amounts of money from the state school sector.”

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