Will white paper be bad for business?

4th November 2005 at 00:00
The education white paper is going to drive up the cost of doing business in the schools market unless companies adopt smarter ways of working in the sector.

From there being only 150 education authority clients, there are now to be more than 18,000 individual school customers, not forgetting the voluntary-aided and independent schools which pushes this number up to 25,000.

The white paper also begs the question, how will the newly-created, and still evolving, Local Education Partnerships and Building Schools for the Future programme fit into all this? The Government is on the threshold of the greatest capital investment in secondary education ever in the UK. Why, at the dawn of this is it dismembering the very organisations charged with procuring this investment for our nation's future?

Many firms already think the level of return means it is not worth bidding to become a local education partner. Will the newly-independent schools be required to buy services from their local education partners (LEPs)? My view is that schools will have the option to opt out and so LEPs will have no guarantee of income outside private finance initiative deals, a shrinking element of the schools building programme.

As a company we've supported the academies programme. Indeed we're involved in the delivery of over a third of all the new academies being built. We also recognise the advantages of foundation schools and the new trust schools proposed by the white paper. But why have three or more versions of what is essentially the same thing: independent state schools?

We applaud the drive to give pupils and parents choice, but why not just make every school and academy, which are trusts, just like the new trust schools? Or is this what the Government is really proposing, but just spinning it not to look that way?

This being the case, why not then just have one legal structure and name?

Paul Foster. Head of education EC Harris, Lynton House 7-12 Tavistock Sq, London WC1

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