“Huge step towards a huge privatisation across a whole range of school services,” says MP on Select Committee

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“This is the first huge step towards a huge privatisation across a whole range of school services,”

Alex Cunningham MP, Education Select Committee, 5 February 2014

The MP wanted to know what the Department for Education (DfE) knew about the proposal by AET to outsource an “unprecedented range of services” to a joint venture company “effectively privatising them for profit”.

The DfE knew about it, said Dominic Herrington, Director of the DfE’s Academies Delivery Group, but it’s a matter for AET and its board, he said.

But Cunningham wanted to know what discussions had taken place. He said:

“This is the first huge step towards a huge privatisation across a whole range of school services, whether it is running particular parts of the service—school clerks and things of that nature.”

Herrington wasn’t sure he accepted Cunningham’s belief that AET's proposal meant privatisation. He told the Committee that AET had “informed” the DfE. But the department hadn’t had “long discussions…because it is a matter for them, essentially”.

Cunningham asked for confirmation – was it a matter for AET whether or not the chain privatised schools services in order to make a profit? Herrington repeated he didn’t think that was what was being proposed but Cunningham interrupted him and asked again,

“Have any of you been involved in any discussions with Ministers about these plans, which will shift resources from the front line to profit-making organisations?”

Andrew McCully, Director General for School Infrastructure and Funding at the DfE, repeated it was up to AET. The DfE was only interested in how effective AET schools were – how AET did it was up to AET’s board.

Cunningham continued to press about whether the DfE was seeking assurances. McCully replied the DfE had sought assurances that AET would maintain the standards of its services. Had the DfE made any assessment about the impact on jobs, conditions of employment and the effect of the proposed outsourcing on front line services? Cunningham asked.

Again, the refrain was, “That is a matter for the board of AET”.

AET is a rapidly-expanding chain which is presently “paused” from taking on more academies because of concerns about performance. The Education Funding Agency (EFA) found “unusual” payments had been made to AET’s trustees. Schools minister Lord Nash has sent at least seven warning letters to AET about its academies. A question was asked in Parliament about one of AET’s academies which had been judged Inadequate. Michael Gove’s reply was that action had been taken because some chains, including AET, had not done what was expected.

Despite this, the DfE has not discussed AET’s outsourcing scheme with AET. It has sought “assurances” but is leaving it up to AET’s board. It's a contract worth £200m to £400m - but the DfE's leaving it up to the board.

This doesn't inspire confidence.
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