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Private US company given a 'toehold' in Essex schools

A PRIVATE company which runs 150 state schools in the United States is offering its services to schools in the UK.

Edison Schools has been working with Essex County Council to adapt its curriculum, assessment and other programmes and materials for a British market.

The surprise partnership emerged this week at a series of workshops for headteachers. But the two organisations have been working together for almost a year.

Peter Evans, Essex's assistant director of education, said the company would not be taking over schools, although the council wants to draw on its "more entrepreneurial approach". Instead, heads will be able to buy in whatever services they want. Edison is hoping to expand the business to the rest of England and Wales.

John Bangs, education secretary of the National Union of Teachers, warned:

"Irrespective of Edison's potential contribution, this is a toe-hold for a private company from another country. We will be monitoring it closely."

Essex abandoned radical plans to contract out virtually all its education services at the end of 2002. Last year was a bad one for Edison Schools, established in 1992, with government investigators warning that it had misreported revenues and presented an unduly rosy picture to investors.

The local education authority wants up to 15 Essex primaries and secondaries to test out Edison's services from this autumn. So far, no figures have been put on how much the services would cost schools.

Terry Creissen, head of Colne community school, Colchester, said some of the curriculum initiatives would fit in well with the Government's workload reduction agenda. For example, lesson plans are linked to assessments and tests which identify areas of poor pupil performance which then link to further follow-up work and study notes.

"The exciting thing is it is an integrated package. You test the children to help them learn. What happens too much in this country is testing them to find out what they don't know," he said.

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