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Tory joins ship in bid to save school

Andrew Turner was once the butt of Labour attacks, but now he is working alongside the Government. Clare Dean reports

THE man who led John Major's drive for opted-out schools is now "working alongside" the Government on the first public-private sector deal to save a failing state secondary.

Andrew Turner, former chief executive of the Grant-Maintained Schools Foundation and a staunch Tory, is involved in a private-sector bid to run the 750-place Kings' Manor comprehensive in Guildford. He is employed as a consultant by Edison, the American-based company which is one of three education firms are vying to take over the failing Surrey school.

This week the Conservative-controlled county council delayed a decision on whether to invite companies to bid to run Kings' Manor, declared failing by Government inspectors earlier this year.

But council leader Andrew Povey has declared himself in favour of private management for the school so it is clear that the issue remains on the agenda.

As the public face of the Conservatives' flagship sector, Mr Turner - a Tory candidate at the last election - was regularly criticised by the Labour opposition.

His appointment to the foundation was always viewed as political. He was a Tory councillor in Oxford and director of Choice in Education, the privately-funded pressure group which gave advice on opting out. Mr Turner sees no problem working with Labour now: "When you have a Labour government, you have little option but to work alongside it.

"In the GM sector we worked with governors and heads of all political persuasions and influence and that is what I am interested in. I have always been interested in education but not a particular political philosophy of education."

Mr Turner already admits to being involved in negotiations on Edison's behalf with "a number" of other schools and authorities but will not reveal details.

He said: "The Government appears to be very flexible about what it is prepared to see tried in schools.

"Initially I didn't expect such flexibility - but certainly the education action zones gave us a promising start."

His link with Edison comes via Professor James Tooley, the right-wing academic, and Mr Turner approached Surrey four or five months ago.

Edison, which runs American state schools for profit, did not, however get involved in the county's unsuccessful bid to set up an education action zone.

"We thought we could do almost as much for a school outside the framework of an action zone," said Mr Turner. "Edison is very straightforward. It knows what it wants, has got a clear idea of how it is going to do it and where the funding is coming."

It runs 25 state-funded schools in the America. All pupils have laptops linked to the school and teachers and heads are paid 10 per cent more than their state equivalents for working a 210-day year, from 8am to 4pm.

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