U-turn on firms taking over departments

31st August 2001 at 01:00
Labour has backed down on proposals for companies to take control of schools, Warwick Mansell reports.

CONTROVERSIAL plans for companies to run individual school departments have been dropped.

The Government is also expected to back down on proposals to allow firms to be given a controlling majority on the governing bodies of failing schools in next week's delayed White Paper outlining wide-ranging plans for secondary education.

The two ideas provoked fury from unions, governors and employers after they were floated by schools standards minister Stephen Timms in an interview with the Financial Times in July.

Their non-inclusion will be seen as a U-turn by ministers concerned that their proposals would be overshadowed by a row over privatisation.

The Government will attempt to deflect attention from the dispute with a series of regional roadshows on its less controversial proposals, also expected in the White Paper, for a restructured 14-19 phase of education.

The paper will also confirm plans to increase the number of specialist schools to 1,500 by 2006, and for a national academy for the country's brightest pupils.

Other policies will include a new category of advanced specialist schools, provision for companies to run city academies on fixed-term contracts, and new rules giving heads more power to exclude violent and disruptive children.

Graham Lane, of the National Employers Organisation for School Teachers, said: "Stephen Timms told me that his comments on the potential involvement of companies in school departments had been misinterpreted. There aren't plans for school departments to be taken over by companies. The Government is, however, keen on companies supporting some of the work that is already going on in schools."

Mr Lane said that the Government would look at companies offering extra help to students, for example, with basic literacy and numeracy. Firms themselves would not be in charge of departments, he said.

Meanwhile, ministers are thought to have become lukewarm towards the proposal to allow companies to appoint the majority of school governing bodies.

Jane Phillips, chair of the National Association of Governors and Managers, said there had been no detail from the Department for Education and Skills on the proposal after the "barrage" of opposition.

She said: "I hope the department's silence means it is thinking again."

Opposition to privatisation across the public sector is to be stepped up next month, with the National Union of Teachers taking the lead. The union has tabled an amendment at the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress calling on members to reject the use of private companies in schools and local authority management.

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