School nets pound;7m in sales of exam

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Quick route to four GCSEs rakes in the profits. Warwick Mansell reports

One of the country's most successful secondary schools has made nearly pound;7 million profit from a series of online courses for teenagers, The TES can reveal.

Thomas Telford school made pound;6.7 million from a turnover of pound;7.3m in just over two years from 2000, accounts show. Its four courses are now taken by students in 1,000 secondary schools.

The results make the city technology college - which passes proceeds on to other schools - one of the biggest success stories as the Government strives to introduce entrepreneurship into education.

But its prosperity is controversial. One head said Thomas Telford was simply benefiting from schools' desire to rise quickly up GCSE league tables.

The school's most popular course, taken by 700 schools, is for pupils taking a full intermediate general national vocational award in information and communications technology. Passing this course is deemed by the Government to be worth the same, for GCSE league table purposes, as getting four GCSEs at A* to C.

Schools pay pound;3,000 each year for a licence to run the GNVQ ICT course. Thomas Telford's website flags up the four GCSE "equivalence" next to the course title.

Chris Healy, head of Balcarras secondary school in Cheltenham, said: "What people are paying for is the opportunity to rise in the league tables."

3Es, a company set up by a second city technology college, Kingshurst CTC in Solihull, is advertising an online science GNVQ course, which is also worth four GCSEs.

Its website says: "Want to improve your science results? Take-up of this qualification will improve student and league table results overnight."

The website says the course requires the same teaching time, at most, as a typical double science GCSE.

Thomas Telford's figures are published in Companies House accounts for Thomas Telford School Online Ltd, a company founded in July 2000 to run courses. The accounts list four executive directors and 16 employees but Steve Turton, finance director, said that most combined school work with working for the company part-time. This, he said, accounted for the company's staggering 92 per cent profit margin.

The four executive directors, including head Sir Kevin Satchwell, and deputy head Dave Berry were listed for accounting purposes as sharing pound;290,000 over two years in fees, but Mr Turton said this money returned to the school.

The school has vigorously defended its record. Sir Kevin said: "This money goes back into the education system."

All profits made by the school are passed to two charities set up by Thomas Telford. The school had put pound;1.25m into sponsoring the new Walsall Academy and pound;1m into Sandwell Academy. It was paying pound;1.5m to sponsor 65 local schools for specialist status.

Sir Kevin estimated that this helped lever in pound;60m extra to local schools, taking account of the overall investment in the two academies and the extra government money the specialist schools would receive.

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