Hundreds of "supermarket" schools coming soon

Francis Gilbert's picture
 15
The Academy Sponsor, E-ACT, which currently runs 11 academies, is intending to set up 250 state schools within five years according to the TES today. This would make it by far the biggest educational provider in the country, dwarfing the biggest Local Authorities in the country.

The TES says: "Sir Bruce Liddington, E-ACT's director general and a former schools commissioner at the Department for Education, said he had spoken to ministers and civil servants about rapidly expanding the number of schools the charity runs. He aims to double the number of its schools in the next three years and "significantly" expand to as many as 250 in five years. Sir Bruce told The TES that he expects the group to have around 50 free schools, 50 "traditional" academies that replace underperforming schools, 100 "converter" academies and 50 primary schools."

Here we have what the LSN have been saying for a while: the "free schools" programme isn't about empowering parents at all, but about privatising the education system.

It is deeply worrying that an unaccountable "charity" like E-Act, that is answerable to no one really, will soon be running so many schools, with carte-blanche to do whatever they want. Furthermore, the way the government has set up the Free Schools programme means that it's the taxpayer that will take all the risk, picking up the tab if the chain fails to deliver, paying for the premises, and enabling the people in charge of the chain to pay themselves no doubt huge wages.

Like Tescos, the chain will probably take over "failing" schools and expand wherever it can, stifling competition whenever it can as well. The net result will probably be "less choice" for parents; certainly they will have far less say in how the chain is run than they currently do with LA schools.
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Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 09:34

We should be very worried about private organisations taking over large parts of public provision. A Channel Four Dispatches programme revealed problems with outsourcing and asked who would really benefit from such take overs.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/episode-guide/series-84/ep...

The programme revealed that the chief beneficiaries would be private companies and this was often to the detriment of those on the receiving end of their services. One head teacher said that no private organisation was going to bid for public sector work unless it could make a profit. Some of these organisations say that they are non-profit making charities which makes them sound altruistic. However, there's nothing to prevent their paying large salaries to those who run the charity.

The TES article revealed that E-Act had been refused permission to run one academy because of financial irregularities and yet it is talking with the Government about setting up more academies. And what happens when these chains become "too big to fail"?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 09:43

This is a worrying development. A recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme asked who would benefit from the take over of public services by private providers. It concluded that the latter would be the beneficiaries often to the detriment of those who received the services.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/episode-guide/series-84/ep...

The TES article said the E-Act had been refused permission to open one academy because of financial irregularies. Yet this company is in talks with the Government to run a chain of them.

And what will happen when the chain becomes "too big to fail"?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 10:10

Janet Downs commented (posted by me because of a technical hitch): "This is a worrying development. A recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme asked who would benefit from the take over of public services by private providers. It concluded that the latter would be the beneficiaries often to the detriment of those who received the services.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/episode-guide/series-84/ep...

The TES article said the E-Act had been refused permission to open one academy because of financial irregularies. Yet this company is in talks with the Government to run a chain of them.

And what will happen when the chain becomes "too big to fail"?"

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 10:20

Just noticed that E-Act are intending to open a Free School in Ealing. Competition for Toby perhaps?

http://www.e-act.org.uk/free-schools

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 10:35

E-Act is aiming to set up a free school in Redbridge, London, following a survey which indicates, they say, strong support. However, there is no proof of this on their website:
http://www.e-act.org.uk/news/84/84/Parents-invited-to-discuss-E-ACT-s-Re...

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 12:35

It does look as though the new Free School Proposal process will require more hard evidence of parental demand and financial viability. It already appears to be the case that one free school due to open in September is halving its numbers through lack of demand so I would take some of these hyperbolic claims by groups like E Act with a pinch of salt. It would appear that the DFE also recognises that much more work needs to be done on pupil projections and financial planning before more tax payers money is wasted on schools that may not be needed.

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 17:05

It is also ironic that, after several governments telling us that they want to increase diversity, we will probably end up with chains of clone schools that maybe less diverse than what is currently available in many local authorities. Even a casual observation of the way some chains are already operating reveals that ' head office' controls things in a way a local authority would never dare to do and, as independent state schools, they have the power to shut out the parents voices because they aren't under an obligation to have a fixed number of elected parent governors.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 17:21

I couldn't agree more with your above comment Fiona. I have spoken to a number of staff now at Academies and they feel that they are being turned into "robots", that the whole atmosphere is very "corporate" and off-putting. Head-office dictates a "formula" and staff are NOT allowed to innovate; but schools are not like McDonalds, you can't just "serve up" a good teacher like a hamburger.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 17:24

"Under the old system, you only had to submit a fairly short document and the Department would decide on the basis of that document – as well as an interview – whether to approve your application"

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tobyyoung/100080451/it-just-got-a-lot-...

It was worse than I thought! "A fairly short document" and an interview to set up a school - an organisation which would be responsible for children and their education.

That was not good. Neither is it good for private organisations to run schools, whether these are free or academies.

Lucy Knight-Ballard's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 18:40

Why stop at English franchises? I am in no doubt that like Sweden's kunskapsskolan (now setting up free schools in England), at least some of these organisations have ideas beyond our own small island.

Once they have established schools in this country, achieving great results due to back door selection, these organisations will be well placed to market their brand of English education in China, India and other emerging markets.

We;ve already seen the so called 'Macdonaldization' of higher education, some might see this as the next logical step.

www.kunskapsskolan.co.uk/faq.4.13ed45fa118bfee467380001282.html

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 18:53

If international groups come into this market, it is quite likely that the 'head office' will become even more remote to parents, who can at least take their placards down to the Town Hall if they don't like what the LA is doing.

Lucy Knight-Ballard's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 18:42

Regarding E-Act, I thought Ealing council had rejected all free school proposals, hence LBHF getting the WLFS - wonder what has changed their minds?

Ben Taylor's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 20:01

Fiona, people won't need to bother with placards at the LA if they don't like these schools run by large commercial groups. They can just go to different schools. More responsive and accountable than the current rationing system.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 19/03/2011 - 09:43

Ben - it may be possible in a city to go to a different school. However, there are millions of us who don't live in huge conurbations. There may only be one school for one large area. Local people want this to be a good school in which they can have a say if they wish to do so. This would not be possible if the one local school were taken over by a privately-run organisation. I note you used the description "large commercial groups". As the Channel 4 Dispatches programme this week made quite clear: no private company will take over public services unless it can made a profit, and this profit is often at the expense of the workers (minimum wage) and, worse, at the expense of those at the receiving end.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Sat, 19/03/2011 - 12:00

Ben
The reality is that in Louth I am campaigning tooth and nail to stop us losing FIVE of our schools into one academy. Yes - five.
And our "choice" is then what exactly?

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