Stories + Views
“State sector’s inefficient culture makes me sick,” says new director at profit-making provider of independent schools
The new director of education at private equity-owned Cognita, Geraint Jones, told TES that the “State sector’s inefficient culture makes me sick”. He’s referring to tasks listed in the “Raising standards and tackling workload: a national agreement” signed in 2003 following a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report which recommended that many jobs done by teachers did not require professional expertise and could be done by support staff. Ofsted subsequently found that workplace reform had “made a considerable difference to pupils’ learning.”
But not according to Jones. He told TES “a lot of money is wasted” because schools employ support staff to do mundane tasks. The money spent on assistants could, he said, be better spent elsewhere, and teachers could do these jobs themselves.
Jones says that the “13 week paid holiday is enough compensation for hard work during term time” thereby insinuating that teachers do no work at all during these weeks. Much of the time when schools are closed is used by teachers for such activities as marking, lesson preparation and writing reports.
State schools can learn “how to run an efficient school” from Cognita, said Jones, forgetting that Cognita has been accused of “milking” one of its schools for profit at the expense of pupils’ education, is under investigation by the Department for Education about claims that it has defrauded the teachers’ pension scheme, and is facing allegations from a whistleblower, who complained of Cognita’s “brutal” regime, that it attempted commercial espionage.
Jones told TES that complaints about education-providing companies being taken over by private equity firms are just generated by “so many people [who] have so many opinions and they don’t even work for the company – they are just creating stories and headlines and nervousness around the system.”
A cynic might say that Jones was trying to create “stories and headlines and nervousness” about teachers in the state system particularly since his remarks quickly follow Michael Gove’s attack on teacher unions at the Tory Conference.
Jones challenged those who have qualms about Cognita’s motivation. “Where’s the evidence in people’s judgement that a group such as Cognita is in it purely for the money?” he asks. This question is answered by none other than Sir Chris Woodhead, Cognita’s director, who told TES in 2011 (article not available online) that his involvement in Cognita was to provide a pension pot when he sold it on after a few years.
Concerns about the motives of profit-making education providers have caused the Swedish government to set up an enquiry into firms that run most of Sweden’s free schools. Bertil Ostberg, State Secretary for Education in Sweden, one of the pioneers of Swedish free schools, told the BBC that the Swedish Government wants assurances from the owners of free schools that they are interested in long-term engagement and will not sell the schools for short-term gain. One of these firms, Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES), has just been acquired by private equity firm, TA Associates. The UK subsidiary of IES won the contract to run the Breckland free school in Brandon, Suffolk. The school, renamed IES Breckland, recently opened in September and was warmly welcomed by Michael Gove in the House of Commons (see Hansard, column 22).