PRIVATE managers taking over a failing Surrey school have said that they will lay off half-a-dozen teachers when the school is relaunched.
In a move that could set a precedent for the Government's new "city academies", 3Es, the firm brought in to take over the Kings Manor school in Guildford, has told six teachers they must go when the comprehensive re-opens in September as Kings College - the country's first privately-run state school.
Unions warned the move was a sign of things to come. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "One reason we have opposed the private sector running schools is because it threatens people's employment. All our anxieties have been confirmed by this."
Ministers are currently inviting private-sector sponsors to set up city academies to replace other failing urban schools.
The union is threatening legal action against Surrey County Council, the current employer of the Kings Manor teachers.
But the county, unfazed, is looking for a private-sector partner to help relaunch a second comprehensive. It is offering a 10-year contract to a firm to take over France Hill, an improving but under-subscribed school in Camberley. And it says more schools could follow.
As at Kings Manor, the successful firm will be paid by results. In the case of France Hill, this would include increasing pupil nubers. It would also be expected to attract other businesses to support the school.
Surrey has said it is looking for tenders "considerably below" the small school support grant it now pays of around pound;50,000 a year.
The relaunch of Kings Manor is covered by national TUPE - Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) - regulations. This protects the jobs of staff when their employer changes. It has often been invoked where council services have been contracted out.
The Department for Education and Employment has said TUPE will apply in all cases where management of a school changes hand.
But Surrey's deputy director of education, Steve Clarke, said it was "a question of interpretation".
He said the teachers, who include several heads of department and the school's acting head, did not fit into the new school's staffing structure.
And Stanley Goodchild, managing director of 3Es, said: "If TUPE is saying - and I don't think it quite means this - that every person in Kings Manor moves to Kings College, then they fail, because they haven't really changed the ethos of the school."
The six have been offered counselling and help with CVs. Surrey hopes to encourage other schools to take them with an incentive payment thought to be around pound;1,000 per teacher. Their responsibility points will also be protected.
Schools minister Estelle Morris told MPs this week she would like to see the private sector more involved in education - and "not only where there are huge levels of failure".