Global giant Gems joins the gold rush for academy profits

22nd October 2010 at 01:00
Major supplier of private schools seeks share of Coalition's reform opportunities

One of the world's largest chains of private schools, which is headed in the UK by a former Ofsted chair, has become the latest company to join the "gold rush" of companies looking to profit from Coalition school reforms.

Zenna Atkins, chief executive of Gems in the UK, said she was in talks with academies about offering services to schools and would go "as big as they want and as fast as they want".

Critics of private sector involvement in state education said schools should be "very afraid" of the surge of interest from private providers, claiming the profit motive would jeopardise children's education.

Dubai-based Gems made a loss from its 12 British-based private schools last year, but believes this can be offset by profit from the Government's moves towards more independence in state education.

Ms Atkins said she hoped outstanding schools converting to academy status would turn to them for services traditionally provided by local authorities because of "economies of scale".

"I'm really excited about talking to schools and local authorities," she told The TES. "We can go as big as they want or as fast as they want. These academies will want to enjoy their autonomy and independence at first but they may look to join an organisation like Gems because of what they can offer."

The company, which runs 100 schools worldwide, also wants to become involved with setting up free schools, sponsoring academies in poor areas, and building affordable private schools for children who are being "let down" by the state sector.

Gems' ambitions mirror those of several other companies keen to step into the gaps that will be left by the dismantling of the school system. Marjorie Scardino, chief executive of Pearson, recently revealed that the group is continuing to push into the education market, with ambitions to provide services to free schools, including everything from teacher training to the curriculum.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, whose recent document England's Schools: Not Open for Business explored the issue, said: "These companies are also in the market for curriculum and pedagogy and the only way they can make money out of this is to standardise them.

"We've seen it in Charter schools in America - you end up with lots of work sheets and computer programs."

Private providers

Who's who - and doing what

Among the players in the state education market:

Appleyards Provides education consultancy.

Capita Group 21,000 schools use its software.

Contour Education Services Supports or takes over the management of failing schools. Builds and manages new schools for state and independent sectors.

Fieldwork Education Offers a school start-up service.

Lilac Skies Schools Offers a turn-around service for schools. Set up by ex-headteacher Trevor Averre-Beeson, who says he is "unashamedly working to be profitable" for his shareholders.

Mouchel

Already maintains 3,000 schools and manages 13 academy projects.

Pearson Owns exam board Edexcel, publishes school resources, has contracts for providing assessments and teacher training.

Tribal

Offers improvement services and pupil tracking systems.

Source: England's Schools: Not Open for Business, ATL.

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