Rise of a private army

24th January 2003 at 00:00
Everyone knows that LEA officers have been quitting the public sector. But few appreciate the scale of the 'defection'. Report by George Low

A small army of former local education authority officers and advisers is now working in the private sector. Many of them are employed by contractors such as Capita, W S Atkins and Amey.

The private sector now accounts for about 6,000 education consultants and advisers, working alongside 8,000 of their peers in local authorities.

At the present rate of expansion private companies could employ more professional advisers than LEAs within the next three years.

Mike Nichol, former director of education in the Wirral, was one of the first education officers to cross the public-private divide. He joined PricewaterhouseCoopers 13 years ago as a consultant after 10 years as CEO.

He has since drawn up the specifications for outsourcing LEA services and written the contracts for the take-over of education in once-failing LEAs such as Islington, Walsall, Bradford, Leeds and Swindon.

He says: "What has changed dramatically is the relationships. When I was a CEO we could throw a letter from the Department for Education in the bin.

Now CEOs are in a direct-line relationship between the department and the schools - as agents on behalf of central government."

Some of the former LEA officers are represented by the Society of Education Consultants, an organisation Mike Nichol helped to set up. But he says he is not sure how many of his colleagues are making a good living out of the work: "At the end of the day you live or die by winning contracts."

Mr Nichol thinks that most of the failing LEAs he has dealt with had deep-seated political problems. "There was fear and distrust among the councillors, either between or within parties," he says.

"Councillors were scrabbling around getting involved in the administration and there was no clear line between policy and the executive. Hopefully, the contract system will restore some of the old separation of powers between elected members and officers."

Among other prominent education officers who have gone across to the private sector are David Monger (West Sussex) and Terry Connolly (Bournemouth), who joined W S Atkins recently. The company took over the contract for running the London Borough of Southwark last year.

David McGahey left Buckinghamshire two years ago to head Amey's education contracting service. Derek Foreman, formerly of the ILEA, went to join Brian Oakley-Smith (Cambridgeshire) in his pioneering venture, Cambridge Education Associates (CEA).

Now part of engineering giant Mott-Macdonald, CEA has been running the national threshold appraisal scheme and Derek Foreman is in charge of the Islington contract.

Ian Harrison (Newham) went to head an education management consultancy at Capita. Dinah Tuck, CEO in Brent and then Walsall, also worked for Capita, a public-sector consortium that has managed two controversial government outsourcing contracts - individual learning accounts and the Criminal Records Bureau.

George Alexander, who left Richmond upon Thames after a top management restructuring two years ago, worked for Arthur Andersen. Then he joined Tribal, a Group 4 consortium which runs education services in Swindon.

THE EDUCATION REGIMENTS

PUBLIC

LEA inspectors and advisers 3,588

Educational psychologists 2,444

Other consultants amp; advisers 2,053

PRIVATE

Consultants (estimate) 6,000

Figures correct in March 2002, collated by the National Employers Organisation for Local Government for the Soulbury Committee.

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