Independent schools poised for takeovers

6th July 2001 at 01:00
Public schools set sights on running their state counterparts and local authorities

LEADING independent schools are to consider forming companies to run state schools or even take over local authority services.

The Independent Schools Council is investigating private schools setting up firms similar to that of education contractor Nord Anglia, to bid to support schools or councils.

Far-reaching discussions in September will also consider independent schools banding together to sponsor specialist schools, city academies, education action zones or Excellence in Cities schemes.

Such companies would fit in with the Government's vision of a diversified school system run by private and public partners.

However, it is bound to be controversial. John Bangs, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The idea that private schools gain financially from public education is one that I think many will find hard to stomach. The suggestion that maintained schools will magically be enhanced by the involvement of private schools is rubbish."

But Sir Kevin Satchwell, head of Thomas Telford city technology college, has called on wealthy private schools to follow his lead and sponsor maintained schools.

A paper to be given later this month by the Government's review body of independent-state partnerships, is to recommend a huge expansion of co-operation between the two sectors.

But some public school leaders want to go beyond co-operation. David Woodhead, director of the Independent Schools Information Service, said:

"We want to explore whether some of our schools, grouped together, should become active as education service providers."

He said the Independent Schools Council, which has 1,300 member schools, had been struck by the success of Kevin McNeany's Stock Exchange-listed company.

The firm, the first profit-making company to manage a comprehensive and which may take over much of Waltham Forest education service, operates a number of private language colleges affiliated to the ISC.

It used expertise gained from running those schools to enter the local authority support services market, and individual school management. There was no reason why other independents could not do the same, said Mr Woodhead.

Sponsorship will also be considered by the council's policy and unity committee in September.

Mr Woodhead said few schools had sufficient endowment funds to be able to offer sponsorship on their own. But groups of schools could sponsor comprehensives' bids for specialist status, or city academies.

The ideas sprang from a speech by Sir Cyril Taylor, chief executive of the Technology Colleges Trust, who called for leading public schools to sponsor comprehensives' bids to raise pound;50,000 to gain specialist status.

Brighton College told The TES it was interested in the idea. The school already has strong links with East Brighton College of Media Arts, a Fresh Start school, and Falmer high school.

Anthony Seldon, headmaster, said: "We would like to sponsor a specialist school. We need to find a benefactor first, so the move would not be a charge on parents, but I would be confident of doing that."

Chris Parker, head of Nottingham high school and chairman of the continued on page 2 continued from page 1 Government's advisory group on independent-state school partnerships, said ministers were likely to sanction a large expansion of the smaller-scale partnerships which have been running since Labour came to power.

A total of 120 partnerships have been set up over the past four years. State and independent schools have come together to offer shared facilities and teaching for around 36,000 students, at a cost to the Government of only pound;2.2 million.

Thirty-four new partnerships were announced this week. Mr Parker said he expected the schemes to be extended to many more areas.

He predicted private schools would get involved in Excellence in Cities for the first time, offering teaching and facilities for "masterclasses" for talented state school pupils.

Mr Woodhead said independent schools also had an altruistic interest in doing all they could to raise educational standards. But he conceded that private schools may have other reasons to demonstrate their contributions to the wider community.

The Charity Commission, which will review the charitable status of private schools, recently received a paper from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations suggesting they would have to meet a "public benefit test" to qualify for such status, which brings with it tax relief.

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