EU rules 'held up deal';Social

19th February 1999 at 00:00
European bureaucracy and government inertia nearly destroyed attempts to involve private business in the failing Kings' Manor school, says a Conservative member of the Education Select Committee.

As a result, the contracts manager at Surrey county hall had more control of the Guildford school's future than its education officials, claims Nicholas St Aubyn, the town's MP.

He wants the Department for Education and Employment to produce guidance for other authorities considering bringing in private or charitable expertise.

Surrey announced last week that 3E's, the commercial arm of Kingshurst city technology college in Solihull, would take over the running of the failing Guildford school.

But Mr St Aubyn says the agreement was reached in spite of European Union rules on bidding for contracts - and without any help or guidance from the DFEE on legal and technical issues.

The EU regulations proved costly for bidders, delayed action at the school, and made it harder for the council to build up trust with parents and the community.

"If the Government is serious about encouraging this kind of initiative, they must tackle the tender process - which was designed more with street cleaning than schools in mind," he said.

A fundamental problem for Surrey County Council was how to hold contractors responsible for meeting performance targets - given that the legal responsibility for running schools remains with governors.

Surrey's proposals get round this by changing the relaunched school's status to voluntary aided. This effectively allows 3E's to appoint the majority of new governors.

The company will receive a straight management fee for setting up the school foundation and the governing body. Most of its financial reward, however, will be related to future performance, judged according to the number of pupils and on their results.

Three E's has promised to share any profits between Kings' Manor and Kingshurst.

In theory the school will be closed down and replaced by a new institution, provisionally called Guildford College for the Arts and Technology.

If it is judged a wholly new enterprise, then 3E's will be able to hire and fire staff as it chooses.

If, however, it is seen as a continuation of the existing school, then the scheme could be subject to existing employment law covering transfers of enterprises.

This would mean that the Kings' Manor staff, including the head, would be guaranteed employment on existing terms.

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