US giant plans to manage academies

8th December 2006 at 00:00
The largest private company running state schools in the United States is bidding to become a major manager of academies in England.

Edison Schools, which operates more than 100 schools in the US, is working on plans for the troubled Islington Green academy, in north London, and is in discussions over future academy projects.

Chris Whittle, Edison's founder and chief executive, said there were up to a dozen companies providing academies and Edison wanted to be one of them.

"We do not completely control any schools in the UK at the moment but we hope to do that via the academies programme," he said.

Edison runs charter schools in the US, which, like academies, are state schools run outside local authority control. The company has been criticised by US teachers' unions for running schools for profit. Mr Whittle said Edison's experience showed that organisations running a number of schools did better than lone operators.

The Prime Minister last week announced plans to double the number of academies to 400 - creating opportunities for commercial businesses such as Edison to work for profit.

Mr Whittle said his company would be a provider of academies rather than a sponsor. "Sponsors would recruit us as a contractor to oversee the building projects, technology and curriculum development. We work for them and can be hired and fired by them."

The company, which opened a UK office in 2002, is working with the City of London and London university, co-sponsors of Islington Green, to develop an "educational vision" that includes curriculum and buildings.

The planned school has proved controversial, with 95 per cent of staff supporting a National Union of Teachers (NUT) campaign against the proposed change.

John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said Edison had long been trying to break into English schools. With academies, the Government had finally given it that opening to "run a school directly and remove the autonomy of a school governing body".

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