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Profit-maker seeks to be 'major player' in Gove's vision of autonomy

One of the world's largest profit-making providers of private education, a company with a stronghold in recession-hit Dubai, is planning to be a "major player" in running the coalition Government's new state-funded independent "free schools", its chief executive has said.

Anders Hultin, the original architect of the so-called "Swedish model" who now heads schools chain Global Education Management Systems (Gems), warned that he was still waiting for the fine detail of the scheme before committing to the project.

Gems, which runs around 60 international schools worldwide, could benefit enormously if companies are allowed to make a profit through "management fees" for running schools, an idea Education Secretary Michael Gove has indicated he supports.

The Conservatives hope to free up planning law to make it easier to build a new school, or open one in a suitable existing building.

Mr Hultin has previously said that companies need to be able to make a profit in order for the project to work for the schools, which would be set up by groups of parents and teachers, voluntary groups and charities.

He said of the plans to create 220,000 new school places: "It's a great thing; this could be fantastic. It could be a great change.

"But we need to make sure we will have the resources and practical and legal arrangements to deliver something that makes them (parents) happy. We want to be able to match the expectations of parents, their dreams for the schools."

The question of funding for the new schools was raised several times before the general election, with commentators questioning how a Conservative government could pay for them as it made swingeing cuts to public services.

Mr Hultin's interest in the free schools project also depends on them being given a good deal of autonomy from local authority control and having sustainable forms of governance.

The New Schools Network, the charity charged with laying the foundations of the new institutions, said it had witnessed a surge in interest since the general election, with 550 enquiries from parents and teachers hoping to set up schools.

Mr Hultin indicated that a number of existing UK Gems schools could seek to become state-funded independent schools, and other private schools would come under pressure to seek free school status.

Mr Hultin said he felt England would eventually reconcile itself to privatisation in education when it saw the results.

"Parents will say they do not want profit-making companies to run a school, but the same parents could be supportive of a profit-making school that they see is good," he said.

Other companies, including EdisonLearning and Kunskapsskolan have also expressed an interest in the project.

See analysis, pages 26-27.

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