Category Archives: education market


Private schools converting to academy status

Hardly a stampede


Lord Adonis who launched the Academies programme was always keen to encourage greater links between fee paying schools and academies and to encourage conversions of fee paying schools to academy status.

These conversions though,  from the private to the maintained sector ,remain rare. This may be partly because the financial incentives  to do so are less appealing than they used to be.

Just  14 former fee paying schools have converted to academy status over the past three academic years, 11 becoming free schools. They are funded on the same basis as other academies and equivalent to other local authority schools in the area.

Most of these schools received the standard project development grant of £25,000 given to mainstream schools to support them with the costs of conversion, although four received more.

All grants agreed since May 2010 are significantly smaller than the level of grants paid to independent schools moving into the state sector prior to May 2010. Between 2007 and 2010, project development grants given to converting independent schools ranged from £620,000 to as high as £1.7 million. In some cases, the Department for Education has also agreed to fund the existing debts of predecessor schools by securing a charge against the assets such as land and buildings. Consistent with the approach under the previous Government, some projects have also been provided with a contribution towards capital funding for the creation of new places.

Lord Adonis  memorably said that he would like the independent sectors DNA to be transferred into maintained schools. Its a great sound bite but the most successful independent schools are highly selective, have motivated and well educated parents, in support ,and can easily  get rid of coasting teachers.  Factors that do not apply to most state schools. In addition academies are still subject to interventions from outsiders unheard of in the independent sector.


Can Academy Trusts award contracts to companies in which their Trustees have a stake ?Yes but no profit


All academy trusts are required to openly procure any externally sourced services, including those related to their trustees.

When a business controlled by or belonging to a trustee bids for a contract the academy trust must consider if that service is the most appropriate for the academy and offers the best value for money. If the academy trust decides to award the contract to the trustee-related service, that business must deliver its services at cost, with no element of profit.

 There have been some questions raised in the media suggesting that academies might have lax financial accountability.  There is  little  evidence though that suggests  that academies have an easier  financial accountability regime than maintained schools. There have always been cases in the  maintained sector of financial irregularities.   They still remain across all  schools, rare. Indeed the government argues that in terms of financial accountability because academies  effectively wear three hats- as companies, charities and public bodies- their financial accountability is more robust than in maintained schools. Academy trusts are constituted as companies limited by guarantee, so are subject to the full rigour of the Companies Act. This means that, unlike maintained schools, academies are required to file independently audited accounts.

But it is clear that, despite all  this, a few of  those running  academy schools  have a rather  self-serving mind set when it comes to  using their autonomous status. Contracts should be put out to open tender, best value must be the lodestar.  And its probably not  best practice to employ family and friends in the school(s) you are running even if  the recruitment process is transparent.    The government must be careful that the academies/free school brand is not undermined in the same way that the Charter school  brand  in the States  has been ,where  some excellent schools and chains have co-existed with others that have failed  to measure up both in terms of business  practice and student outcomes.


Adapting  to the new environment

Both threats and opportunities are opening up


Local authorities have had to adapt and evolve their roles in a diversified mixed economy of schools. Most secondary schools are now academies accountable direct to the Secretary of State through their Funding Agreements. The idea of free schools and academies is that they are ‘free’ from local authority bureaucracy. (although there is a myth still around  that Local authorities actually  ran schools).

But they still have the following core roles in respect of education:

Ensuring sufficient supply of school places (something of a challenge in the current environment)

Tackling underperformance in schools

Supporting vulnerable children (SEN etc)

They are carrying out these tasks within a self-improving school system. This places a real responsibility on schools to help themselves and to drive improvement (bottom up as opposed to top down) and to enter into partnerships and collaborative ventures with other schools. There is now a recognition that most of the expertise needed to improve schools lies within schools. So, the leaders of successful schools can create and transfer successful practice into less successful schools. The proposition is that you can raise standards and reduce inequities by strong schools helping partners who are struggling. Local authorities can still, of course, play a role as a facilitator or enabler here. But so too can other players. Agents can, in effect, help foment effective collaboration. Robert Hill and Christine Gilbert recently reported on the challenges faced by Thurrock education authority which is seeking to quicken the pace of improvements in its schools. In their report they best summed up the collaborative approach and prevailing orthodoxy  on how to improve a school system. They wrote ‘there is already considerable evidence that suggests that outcomes improve fastest and children and  young people benefit most, when schools work together to lead improvement  and where they share concern  and responsibility for all children and young people in their area , not just their own school’.    This is what Professor Andy Hargreaves means by ‘collective autonomy’ as opposed to  individual autonomy (which leads to an atomised system) 

School partnerships  can come in the form of  teaching school alliances, Federations, Transition groups and subject networks, both formal and informal, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’. The potential for sharing information, innovation and informed practice throughout the system is significant.

A big challenge for local authorities is to match supply with demand for school places. As we have seen from the crisis in Primary places some are struggling to cope. But the task is not an easy one.  Many more schools are now free to set their own admissions numbers and authorities have to cope with the dual challenges of how to create new school places when demand rises within an autonomous school system   and how to cope with the consequences of over-supply. One factor that makes this a particular challenge is that many academies do not wish to expand in size to meet demand. Do not assume that a successful school, in demand, wants to expand, even if it can.

It is sometimes forgotten, in the midst  of these structural changes to the school landscape, that local authorities continue to hold democratic accountability for securing good outcomes for all children and young people in their area.  They have a statutory duty too  in exercising their education and training functions  to do so with a view to promote high standards and to promote the fulfilment of learning potential. So the challenge, in a somewhat fragmented system, is to ensure that every school has access to school to school support and access to informed external support. Secondary schools can, by and large, access support for school improvement, whether from an external source or from the local authority itself, but there are concerns that Primary schools find this more difficult.   Teaching School Alliances could provide the potential route for schools to source support from other schools in their local areas. Some local authorities appear to  be using these alliances to regain some of  the strategic role and influence  they once had.

One overriding concern that many local authorities have is that in future they may not have the capacity to support and challenge maintained schools given the reduction in local authorities’ school improvement teams and the   consequent haemorrhaging of expertise.

Then there is the issue of accountability and a third tier. Schools can support each other but who is there to act as an independent, third party or broker to challenge them? And is there sufficient shared intelligence in the current system to spot early on declining performance in a school before it impacts on its results and it enters a downward spiral. Those schools that are not part of a chain could be most vulnerable, and most schools are not, of course, part of a chain. What is also quite interesting and little known in this respect is that since January 2013, a total of 25 academy chains have agreed to pause and restrict their growth and further expansion. The government wants chains to concentrate on their quality rather than quantity as there is a perception that some chains have expanded too quickly. But a big question is, given the importance attached to chains within the new system in driving improvements and in providing   accountability-what overall effect will this slowdown have?

Certainly local authorities have challenges on their hands but some are more fleet of foot than others and are becoming brokers to ensure school to school partnerships develop and have access to a range of support. They are also providing traded services to schools and refining these traded services to meet demand, as well as providing advice on quality assurance.  Jonathan Carr-West chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit  recently told Christopher Woolfrey of the Key  that “ councils have had to be more entrepreneurial :to sell services to schools rather than offer them automatically and to make sure these services represent good value. Now its much more of a client provider relationship”. As Woolfrey points out, local authorities are reshaping their relationships with schools and given the nature of their historical relationship and the information and data they have on these schools they potentially enjoy a market advantage over private operators. Whether they exploit this fully is another matter.



There are quite a few educators who believe that competition in education and between schools works against the grain and damages the interests of children. You  end up with a fragmented ,atomised  system   as schools compete for the best pupils  and staff in a dysfunctional,  polarised system. It is much better, indeed ,essential to foment collaboration and partnerships between schools.  Indeed for a self-improving school system this is a pre-requisite. Another view is that competition is a fact of life. It  drives creativity and innovation and performance  it releases energy ,it encourages efficiency, and it helps raise standards. But there is another view too. That you need both collaboration and competition in the system. A good leadership team knows when to collaborate and when to compete.

There is little doubt that collaboration between schools both formal and informal, makes an awful lot of sense. The London Challenge is now seen as an exemplar of collaboration at its best.  Overall London schools collective  performance has increased dramatically over the last few years.  It can certainly help with teachers professional development.   Better CPD helps improve the quality of teaching and  student outcomes. No one school has access to  all the resources and skills it needs to drive improvements. If you collaborate with others you can not only access new skills and leadership  but you can open your  school to new ideas and approaches to  better meet the challenges you face.

There are many types of   Federations in operation (six types at the last count)  although the typical Federation involves   just two schools. But there is some evidence  that suggests that certain types of   Federation  helps  both CPD and to improve student performance . ‘ Professors Daniel Muijs  and Mel Ainscow are among those who have done some useful work in this area. I was struck by a quote used by Professor Muijs  in a recent presentation which suggests that competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive     (dont even  collaborative ventures and partnerships  compete with each other for skills  and resources, ?) Here is the quote:

“Competition and Collaboration are not contraries. They are complementary. In every aspect of life we do both .Schools are highly co-operative endeavours in which scholars vigorously compete. The Olympic Games combine immense co-operation in structure and rules with intense competition in events. Only in a harmonious oscillating dance of both competition and co-operation    can the extremes of control and chaos be avoided and peaceful permanent order be found” (Dee Hock 1999)


Conference hears from UKTI and Higher Education Institutions


Emily Ashwell, the corporate financier who heads the education unit at UKTI(BIS) was a panellist this week at an Education Export conference run by Education Investor. The panel was discussing vocational education. HMG sees Saudi Arabia as a major education export opportunity and is selling UK expertise in vocational education and training, which is in demand in Saudi. Further Education colleges are being encouraged to step up to the plate. Other countries seen as priorities are Colombia, Mexico and Kazakhstan, for reasons that are not entirely clear.

The ten strong education unit sees the future in consortium bidding. The proposition is that governments abroad are seeking to transform their education systems. Opportunities will therefore be big in scale, complex and cross cutting.  To respond to this we need to offer a strategic, joined up, holistic approach, not a piecemeal and fragmented one .  This is about partnership and collaboration. So, the education unit can help gather educators, suppliers, construction companies, lawyers etc to offer integrated solutions. The implication here is that they will focus on the big ticket contracts. The smaller operators may have grounds for concern, although Ashwell denied this in a recent interview with Education Investor. In initial publicity launching the new export initiative earlier this year Pearson Education was referenced several times-and they are certainly big- and, when I last looked, not so obviously British.  But, that aside, UKTI deserve a chance and Ashwell certainly appears to be determined to help change the landscape and to ensure that we catch up with the more  co-ordinated  approaches  of  our major competitors including the US, Canada, and  Australia.

Meanwhile, Higher Education Institutions told the audience that the Home Offices’ visa policy is driving a coach and horses through our higher education exports. Foreign students are finding it too difficult and costly to apply to UK institutions and we are rapidly losing market share.  India has been particularly badly hit by this. Its now beginning to affect Chinese students. The Chief Executive of Sannam S4 ,Adrian Mutton , a recruiter specialising in India and China, said that the  old guard of the UK, Australia and the US are now  being challenged by Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Malaysia, Ireland and Singapore, which are all experiencing double-digit growth in the number of students choosing to study there. Interestingly too  in Europe universities are teaching many more courses in English which is also seen as a possible  longer term  threat to UK HEIs.

HEIs want students not to be included in the net immigration figures. This seems unlikely before the next election.  The Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia even called for the Home Secretary to step down.  The view is that BIS and DFE are supportive of HEIs but the Home Office isn’t.




The approach of the Department for International Development towards education in developing countries has altered significantly in recent years

Although the importance of education has never been in doubt, aid was aimed largely at supporting government’s public provision. The logic was clear. Help build up the education infrastructure and more children will be educated, particularly at the primary level where the initial focus rests.  But harsh realities on the ground led to a change of direction. The reality is that the infrastructure is so poor in many countries and there are  so few quality teachers available that  most young people have no access to  any education and those who do are not the most disadvantaged. Pumping UK taxpayers money into this sink hole was unlikely to get many returns any time soon.

On the ground  into  this yawning gap entered the private sector. Large numbers of low cost private schools and chains of schools have sprung up in poor areas to cater for the education needs of the poor. And  poor parents value education for their children , and are prepared to pay for it. It provides a ladder of opportunity for their children of course but also for them. Professor James Tooley has for years highlighted the role of the private sector in education provision for the poor. Professor Michael Barber now with Pearson is also a supporter of low cost (high quality) schools. Barber recently pointed out that 70% of Delhi’s children are educated in low fee private schools.

Some critics don’t like these developments seeing the DFID as some kind of neo-conservative outfit supporting profit makers. But the DFID under considerable pressure to support aid projects that are seen to work and deliver good value for money for taxpayers  have adopted a ‘what works’ pragmatic approach .

A recent education position paper from DFID looked, interalia, at support for Low-fee private schools in the developing world. . The Position Paper states that ‘The UK strives to get the best possible outcomes for poor people and takes a pragmatic stance on how services should be delivered. In some circumstances (parts of India, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan, for example), this includes developing partnerships with low-fee private schools. DFID works with the private sector in situations where the public sector is not sufficiently present (the slums of Nairobi for example) or  where state provision is so weak that the private sector has stepped in to fill the gap. Recognising that fees are still a major barrier to access for the poor, DFID’s support includes voucher schemes that subsidise access to low-fee private schools for the poorest.’

Parents may choose to pay fees rather than opting for fee-free state alternatives for a number of possible reasons. These include language of instruction, a belief that private schools are better quality and lack of local provision. Emerging evidence suggests that learning outcomes in low-fee private schools, where they exist, are relatively better than in the state sector, even though they may still be unacceptably low. A range of studies have explored the relationship between low-fee private provision and learning outcomes, in diverse country contexts. The effects are not uniform across contexts and empirical findings remain inconclusive.


However, some recent quantitative studies have shown a significant achievement-advantage for students attending private, fee paying schools even after social background is taken into account. Much of this research comes from India  and Pakistan, including French and Kingdon (2010) and Desai et al (2008). Javaid et al’s (2012) study in Pakistan finds that although controlling for a range of covariates causes the private school premium to decline, even with the most  stringent analyses private schools are no worse than government schools, with much lower levels of inputs. It should  be noted that many studies are unable to account for unobserved selection, on attributes such as parental choice of  who within the family attends private school, and the effort they put into improving the home environment for these  children.


The reasons for this need to be better understood together with consideration of what, if any, lessons can be shared between the private and public sectors to improve both. Evaluation is therefore central to DFID’s current work with low-fee private schools.  Education innovations, often driven by the non-state sector, are emerging in low- and middle-income countries to meet the rising demand for education. However, there is little objective information on the scale, scope, and, most importantly, on the learning impact on the poor of these innovations. The Center for Education Innovations (CEI) is a DFID initiative to help policymakers, education providers, researchers, and investors replicate and develop successful education models and approaches for poor people.  Launched in June 2013, CEI is an online global, public database that identifies and evaluates the most promising education innovations from pre-school through to skills training. It also hosts research and evidence on education innovations and brings together education funders through a virtual platform. The virtual platform operates through four connected channels: a database profiling education innovations from preschool to skills; a document library containing research and evidence on education innovations; a virtual platform for education funders; and education communities of practice.




There are more than 12,000 private schools in Lagos (Nigeria), attended by more than 1.4 million children (61% of primary school enrolment in Lagos) and employing 118,000 teachers.47 In response to this large and rapidly expanding sector, DFID is planning a programme of support to develop a better and more inclusive private education system that improves learning outcomes for children, especially from low-income households. The programme will work with a range of different organisations, from government to banks and mass media. It will have an emphasis on supporting the regulatory environment and research to establish a  sound evidence base for any future support.


In some areas of Pakistan’s Sindh province, nearly half of school enrolments are in private schools. Supported by DFID, the Education Fund for Sindh is an innovative 3-year pilot programme working in partnership with leading members of Pakistan’s business community. The Fund will provide vouchers to parents of out of school children to attend low-fee private schools, facilitate private management of public  schools and support organisations able to supply quality, cost-effective education. Up to 200,000 poor out of  school children in urban and rural Sindh will be supported to achieve minimum standards in literacy and numeracy

See also-Desai, S., Dubey, A., Vanneman, R., & Banerji, R. (2008). Private Schooling in India: A New Educational Landscape. ; Maryland: University of Maryland.

French, R., & Kingdon, G. (2010). The relative effectiveness of private and government schools in Rural India:  Evidence from ASER data. London: Institute of Education.

Javaid, K., Musaddiq, T., & Sultan, A. (2012). Prying the Private School Effect: An Empirical Analysis of Learning  Outcomes of Public and Private Schools in Pakistan. Lahore: University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Department  of Economics.

Source:DFID-Education position paper- Improving learning, expanding opportunities-July 2013



Not yet


Lord Adonis, the former Labour education minister, was asked to comment last month on the conversion of Liverpool Academy from a private school to a free school. He was quoted by the Independent as predicting that ‘within a couple of decades, as fee-paying schools become virtually extinct, people might look back and wonder why Britain ever had such a divisive system of education’.  Adonis has been a trenchant critic of the widening attainment gap between the state and independent sectors and believes that  private schools have a moral duty to work more  closely with   independent schools and get back to their charitable roots in order to address this.. He also rightly worries that isolation from mainstream pupils  hardly  assists these schools in delivering a rounded education, which is one of their selling points.   He also sought, through the academies scheme ,to transfer some of the DNA from independent schools to the maintained sector.

But could   he be right about the extinction of private schools ?

The Blog ‘Marketing Advice for schools’  claims that there ‘ is some evidence that private schools are finding it hard and converting to free schools. Two other high profile examples are QEGS Blackburn and Kings Tynemouth. Other schools have closed and consolidated under economic pressure’.

But this does not necessarily herald the imminent decline of private schools. The credit crunch and escalating salaries and pensions were supposed to squeeze independent schools .Certainly there has been a marginal decline in numbers attending private schools.  But if you drill down into the number The TES reports that only 9 private schools have become free schools. The Independent School Census (2013) shows the number of pupils in 1,200 UK private schools has dropped by only 0.3% this year and there are 9% more private school pupils that there were in 1996. A separate survey by the ISC (Attitudes Towards Independent Schools (2012)) showed that the percentage of people who would send their children to private school if they could afford it has reached the highest level seen – 57%.

Why is this, despite the massive investment by Labour into schools and the hard work of state school teachers? Here are three reasons given by Marketing Advice for Schools

1. Parents are encouraged to choose: Labour encouraged parents to look around and this has continued under Michael Gove. However, it has also paradoxically made many parents critically appraise the offerings of state schools, and realise they may not get into the ‘best’ state schools. As parents spend more time looking they start considering the private sector.


2. Parents want small class sizes and individual attention: When parents are asked why they want to send their children to private schools, research shows that what they most want are small class sizes and individual attention for their children (even if this is found to be a relatively poor way of improving overall achievement). Successful, over-subscribed state schools almost always have Y7 classes of 30 and most have tutor groups of the same size. Many private school parents I’ve met feared their children would be ‘lost’ in state schools.

3. Private schools are better at marketing. Teaching may be better in state schools. State school pupils may do better at university. Some private schools may just be exam factories. But the best private schools spend time and money creating the stories that resonate with parents and communicating with them. The gap may close in the future as faced with greater competition, state schools (and especially academy chains) improve their marketing and attract more parents and students, but is isn’t likely to disappear.

I would add another two points.  There is a shortage of capacity in the state sector, particularly at the Primary level.  Some Parents who otherwise might not have looked at the private sector may now be thinking they have to. Secondly, the top elite  independent schools are significantly over-subscribed ie in some, there are three or four applicants going for each place and the demand from overseas ,particularly the Far East has actually risen. Some schools could actually fill their first year intake with Chinese students, if they so wished. This demand is likely to continue for a few years as the Chinese middle class expands. (And schools will be hoping that rich Chinese alumni might help invest in their schools future.) The biggest pressure on private schools will be if more state schools can raise their game and deliver a good rounded education to their children. If the achievement gap narrows then private schools will be looking over their shoulders.   But Lord Adonis’ prediction that the independent sector may die within twenty years looks far-fetched. And  the big change over the next twenty  years is more likely to be a significant increase in the number of overseas pupils, as schools respond to demand and pursue fee income.

The challenge though will remain  for independent schools to  control  their costs  and to differentiate their offers, in a market that will become more rather than less competitive. Although the sector will almost certainly survive there will be those that fail to adapt, fail  to innovate  and fail to demonstrate that they  deliver value for money   to  increasingly well   informed parents.  Some of the smaller, less well endowed  schools will  fall by the wayside or seek refuge in the state sector.


Professor Dylan Wiliam says that there is no evidence that the independent sector has better teachers than the maintained sector nor  do the sectors teachers  achieve better outcomes for their pupils , than those in the maintained sector once ,that is  ,you take into account pupils socio-economic backgrounds.



A much delayed UK education export strategy  has just been  published ‘International Education:  Global Growth and Prosperity; July 2013′

Will  it make make any difference? Lets hope so. But experience suggests that not much will change. Certainly there is a new education unit, at UKTI  whose output since the beginning of the year is hard to judge, but its small and there appears to be little new ring fenced funding to aid   education exports.  This group will be looking at big ticket cross cutting  projects , with big  UK  based operators.  The British Council  remains a significant agent responsible for promoting UK education and culture abroad,  which will upset some suppliers who are never quite  sure when the BC is working in support of their efforts abroad or is intent  on competing  against them ,through its commercial arm. The BC looks to be  searching for new income streams, and the danger here is that smaller private operators  may be crowded out of the market.

The International Education Council (to be co-chaired by Minister David Willetts) looks to be an effort to assuage companies who believe that they have neither been listened to  nor helped in the past but at least  suggests a new willingness to engage with stakeholders  and it would be churlish not to acknowledge this . It might help but looks to some observers to be window dressing. And, of course, we have yet another champion, this time for education exports . Will the champion be more effective than other champions /or czars appointed , it has to said, with very mixed results  in other sectors? Indeed, are we  witnessing a triumph of style over substance?

What matters most is what exporters experience on the ground. Is the market transparent and fair? This paper does not address competition issues .  Are the costs of market entry and exit acceptable ?  Are  companies getting access to useful, timely, commercial information on  new opportunities , and  are they getting access to useful contacts and  market intelligence ?Do trade missions include education exporters ? Many companies, of course, have managed to secure business in the past without any help at all from government and doubtless this will continue.  But if you talk to education exporters it is clear that they think that we really  do have to raise our game  abroad, and at  many levels,  to compete more  effectively with Asian new comers, with Canada, the United States and Australia who all provide good  support for their own exporters. The launch of this strategy at least provides an acknowledgement that we haven’t been getting it right in the past which is a start. Whether it changes  much  on the ground, at the sharp end, where competition is hotting up, remains to be seen.


 Tear down the wall

Many independent schools remain reluctant to help out with the academy programme, says Patrick Watson in Education Investor magazine

Britain has not one school system, but two, existing in parallel, hardly ever coming into contact. This is worrying some of our leading educationalists. Lord Adonis, the architect of the academies scheme, for example, used a conference at Brighton College this month to remind private schools heads that he wanted the “Berlin Wall” separating them from the state system to be torn down. Dr Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington College, meanwhile, talks about the “apartheid” that characterises our schools, and the widening performance gap between the independent and maintained sectors.

Those who support closer links between the two sectors use a number of arguments to make their case. Some argue that these schools are now so exclusive they are actively damaging to their students, because they see so little of the rest of society. Others say that, as charities, independent schools have a moral obligation to serve the many, rather than the few. Adonis argues that most major private schools, originally established as charities for the education of the poor and under-privileged, have in practice “entirely divorced themselves from these groups” over the last century.

His solution is that private schools should get involved with the running of academies, to bring their talents to bear in the state system. Seldon, meanwhile, has called on those organisations that represent private schools to actively broker linkages between private schools and academies. He put his money where his mouth was by establishing the Wellington academy in Tidworth.   A few other private schools – Dulwich, Eton, Uppingham, et al. – have heeded this advice. So far, though, most private schools have ignored the call.

To explain why, you need to understand independent schools. They jealously guard and treasure their independence, and are deeply suspicious of any political intervention that looks like it could threaten it. They are attacked so often, and given so little credit by politicians, that their mind-set is defensive. And they believe that it’s for their own management teams to decide – not only how to run the schools, but also how they should deliver the ‘public benefit’ that justifies their charitable status.

Schools are also sensitive to the fact that many parents are struggling to pay the school fees. They thus feel a pressing duty to use this income exclusively for the benefit of their existing pupils. Sponsoring an academy, though, would mean redirecting resources and staff time over an extended period. There’s reputational risk involved, too: some academies will fail. And private schools, most of whom have little experience of dealing with disadvantaged pupils with little parent support, will be taken out of their comfort zone. So, many think, why risk your reputation and the collateral damage that might follow?

Besides, independent schools can and do provide help to state pupils in many different ways. In 2012 the Independent Schools Council reported that over 90% of its members – more than 1,100 schools – were involved with some form of partnership activity. For some that meant academy sponsorship – but for others it meant offering state pupils access to specific lessons, activities, or facilities; helping prepare them for entry to higher education; seconding teaching staff to maintained schools to teach specialist subjects; and so on. Indeed, the Independent State School Partnership Forum now meets three times a year, to consider how further co-operation can be encouraged.

But it is true, nonetheless, that some schools are better than others at developing such links, and in delivering public benefit. We are told that the Charity Commission will come down hard on those schools that are seen to be ‘tokenistic’. It is hard to argue that a handful of bursaries deliver meaningful public benefit – and it is an uncomfortable truth that cherry-picking the best pupils from the state system harms the schools they leave or eschew. The aim, surely, must be to maximise public benefit and deliver it at scale.

This, then, is one key justification for academy support. Here is another. Education is about making connections and preparing pupils for the real world. How do you give a child a truly rounded education, if you isolate them from the mainstream and, in particular, from the most disadvantaged in society?

In any case, collaboration between schools is now widely seen by experts as the best means to deliver systemic improvement. And, of course, it isn’t a one-way street. Many progressive ideas in education and great teaching are in evidence in the state system, in those schools where socio-economic disadvantage is not seen as an excuse for poor performance and where the concept of adding value is understood.

And, whisper it soft, but some in the independent sector look to be more than a little complacent when it comes to adding value and leadership. For reluctant independent schools, it could be time for a re-think.

Article published in  Education Investor  June  Vol 5 2013


Company part of a joint venture mutual ,offering school support services


Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society at the Cabinet Office was at the launch of the first ever joint venture mutual, 3BM ,in April. It provides a range of critical school support services. The business is made up of staff from three London boroughs; Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster. They are delivering services such as financial management, IT and building development to schools allowing them to focus on education.

3BM is the first ever mutual joint venture to spin out of local government. The business is owned by a partnership between the employees and the the education employment company, Prospects. The employees own 75.1% of the business, giving them a controlling stake. Prospects has a 24.9% share and brings capital and business expertise needed to make the business grow. As a result of 3BM spinning out, the local councils could see £1 million in savings over the next four years. The mutualisation project has been supported by the Cabinet Office which had previously designated Hammersmith and Fulham  Council as a national Pathfinder in 2010 to explore new ways of delivering public services more efficiently. Prospects is an  employee- owned  private company,   and was chosen in an innovative “dragons den” process but with the partner’s shareholding capped at no more than 25% in return for their input and support. All mutual staff will own shares, with Prospects, as stated, owning up to 24.9% of the company,  but subject to them meeting key performance targets to the satisfaction of the mutual.

Ministers have talked in glowing terms about the John Lewis model in business. All 84,700 permanent staff of John Lewis  are Partners who own the  39 John Lewis shops across the UK and the 291 Waitrose supermarkets  , an on-line catalogue business a production unit and a farm.  Policy Exchange, the Prime Ministers favourite think tank, published a report recently ‘ Social Enterprise Schools’ championing the John Lewis model in education.  The report said Private companies should be encouraged to take over and run state schools as profit making enterprises under a “John Lewis-style” business model. It argued the new schools, in which teachers and staff are encouraged to become shareholders, would create strong incentives to drive up standards. Under the proposals, half of any profits made by the schools would be distributed as a dividend to its partners on an annual basis, while the remaining half would be reinvested.

There are quite a few ‘ co-operative schools’  operating in England. The Co-operative College, a Manchester-based organisation, is helping to support and promote the ground-up, democratically driven growth of Co-operative trust schools. The Co-operative College has over recent years worked with the Co-operative Party and schools to develop a distinct co-operative trust model that enables schools to embed co-operative values into the long term ethos of the school.  These schools  are part of the Co-operative movement, with a history dating back to the 19th century. Despite some legal challenges, in just five years, co-operative schools have become the third largest grouping within the English education system, with currently over 450 operating. 30 have become co-operative converter academies, a small number are co-operative sponsor academies and we have seen the creation of the first co-operative multi-academy trust.

Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, has launched a programme to introduce employee mutuals into public services and has endorsed the aim of a million public sector workers – around 15% of the total – transferring to staff-led mutuals by 2015.

Patrick Burns, Director of Mutuals Development for Prospects says that the reason for this Ministerial enthusiasm is the increasing evidence that employee ownership can help organizations perform better than conventional counterparts in the private and public sector; as well as the  micro and macro benefits to the wider economy. Prospects had elected to make the transition from conventional ownership to employee ownership. It is a former spin-out from the public sector – formed  from the careers services of four London boroughs in 1996 – which now offers advice and support to  authorities and staff groups interested in forming employee-led mutuals [ELMs] alongside its extensive  other work  in education, training and employment. Prospects services include careers services for adults and young people; the Government’s  Work Programme initiative to help long term unemployed people back to work; the largest Ofsted Early Years Inspection Services  contract in the country; advice and guidance for offenders; and an extensive range of education consultancy and school improvement services.

Patrick Burns was until December 2011 Chief Executive of the Employee Ownership Association. He written a paper about employee ownership  (see below) in the private and public sector of the British economy, and how Government can help it spread.

Knowingly Undersold- How Government can spread the John Lewis effect-Prospects Policy Paper-Patrick Burns