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For-profit SEN school taken out of special measures

The first special needs school to be run by a profit-making company is to be taken out of special measures a year after the ground-breaking #163;1 million contract started.

Sky College in Taunton, Somerset, had been in special measures for more than four years before it was taken over in controversial deal brokered by the local council.

Under the contract, a private company - Lilac Sky Schools - was brought in on a five-year deal to turn school performance around. Somerset council said it lacked the expertise to deliver rapid improvements at the school for students with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

The arrangement followed a similar agreement struck by Enfield Council in north London, which brought in private American business Edison to run secondary school Turin Grove. Their three-year deal ended last year.

Despite outsourcing control of Sky College - previously Priory School - Somerset County Council retains ultimate responsibility for the school, meaning it does not break rules that ban state schools being operated for profit.

Trevor Averre-Beeson, director of education for Lilac Sky Schools, said having a contract brought a clearer focus to the improvements needed to get a school out of special measures.

"We have brought focus and capacity that would not have happened with the appointment of just a different headteacher," he said.

Mr Averre-Beeson was the head of Turin Grove when it was first run by Edison and has developed a reputation for turning around struggling schools.

But NUT general secretary Christine Blower criticised out-sourcing of school management to profit-making companies.

"We are always pleased when schools come out of special measures, but it is our position that the best place for schools is their local authority," she said.

"The accountability that exists means schools under local authority control focus on the improvements they need to make. I do not accept that bringing in a private contract or business is the best or only way to do things."

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