"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, October 12, 2009

Edison Across the Pond

You can practically hear Chris Whittle licking his greedy little chops as he reads this piece about the Tories supporting the use of for-profit enterprises to run England's public schools. Edison is the only for-profit school currently operating in Her Majesty's Kingdom, but John McAleavy, Edison's director of operations, says "of course" the privatizers would like to get their hands on more public dollars (Edison also boasts that over 30 UK schools received "support by the end of the 2005 academic year"). Maybe, Chris, you and Benno Schmidt could use your little bow-ties to wipe the slobber off your faces once you've stopped drooling over the prospect of expanding your scheme overseas. All of this, of course, can only happen if the Margaret Thatcher-admirers get their way. (Whittle, I'm reminded, is involved with GEMS education; thanks to Karen Miller for the update). From the Guardian UK:
Parents to hire private firms to run schools under Tories
Polly Curtis, education editor
Guardian.co.uk, Thursday 8 October 2009

A Conservative government would encourage companies to run stateschools for profit, it emerged today, as David Cameron promised to deliver radical change to take schools away from government interference.

Saying he wanted to give every child the kind of education their parents would expect from a private school, Cameron argued that "discipline, setting by ability and regular sport" prevalent in the private sector would flourish in state schools once they were freed from government controls by the Conservatives, forcing headteachers to respond to parental demands.

But it emerged that under the reforms, based on the Swedish system of "free" schools, governing bodies could contract out the operation of the school – including teaching – to a private company and that the company would be allowed to charge a "management fee".

Using a little-known loophole in the law, the system is already allowed under Labour and has happened in one case where an American firm is operating a school in north London. But it is not being expanded under the current government. The governing body of the school crucially retains charitable status and by law has to be entirely separate to the company it employs to run the services.

The scheme would in effect increase the privatisation of the school system under the Tories, in a radical departure from assurances made by shadow ministers this week that they are not planning to allow schools to operate for profit.

The system of charging management fees is being seen as a way to incentivise private firms to run schools. One Conservative source said the scheme would help "bring diversity" to the range of schools opened under their reforms, but insisted that their efforts were currently focused on recruiting people to run their new schools from the not-for-profit sector.

A spokesman for the party said: "The government already allows companies to charge management fees. We won't stop that." The management fee system could be one way of encouraging parent groups to run schools. They could form a body to oversee the operation of a school, contracting out the day-to-day activities and countering the barrier that most parents are too busy to run a school.

The only school in the country to already operate under the scheme is Turin Grove school in Edmonton, north London. Since 2007 it has been run by the firm Edison Learning, a UK wing of Edison in north America which operates a chain of for-profit schools under the American charter school system, which is another inspiration for the Conservative reforms.

John McAleavy, directions of operations at Edison Learning, said they would "of course" be interested in running schools under the management fee system. "We'd do it because we think we have something we can offer and we also think that for governing bodies it provides them an opportunity to stipulate very demanding KPIs [key performance indicators]. They can write demanding performance indicators into the contract and feel comfortable to holding us to account."

He refused to say how much the company earns running schools, but added: "It is a good business model. Low profit and long contracts is the approach. That's the sensible way to do it."

This week Michael Gove, shadow schools secretary, set out plans to expand the Swedish school model to allow any school to opt out of state control and be run independently by sponsors including parent groups, charities and companies. Schools would get at least £5,000 for every child they teach and more for children form the most deprived homes.

But the reforms have drawn criticisms that they won't be able to find enough sponsors to run the schools.

In his speech Cameron reiterated plans to scrap quangos and overhaul school structures. "I come at education as a parent, not a politician," he said. "Discipline. Setting by ability. Regular sport. These are the things you find in a private school. Not because the government tells them to do it, but because it's what parents want. Why can't parents in state schools always get what they want?"

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