“State sector’s inefficient culture makes me sick,” says new director at profit-making provider of independent schools

Janet Downs's picture
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).

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Michael Dix's picture
Sun, 14/10/2012 - 19:35

Just to comment on the workload agreement at the start of this article which Mr Gove was also commenting on at last week's conference as if it was something new, rather than a nationally agreed agreement..

The theory is sound. There are many activities that teachers do/did that do not require the level of expertise to which they have been trained. However, there have always been two problems with the list of tasks that should not have been done by teachers.

Firstly, sometimes it is easier or more convenient for a teacher to carry out these tasks rather than spending time having to brief a teaching assistant on what they require or waiting for their timetabled slot for a TA to do the work. Secondly, at my school we use teaching assistants in a wide range of roles, training them to provide support in areas such as speech and language and reading coaching. Many support individual children with SEN. Teachers value this work and are then faced with the dilemma of taking them off it to do more mundane activities.

So, I would imagine that in most schools many teachers do, to some degree, the activities they are not supposed to do. Hence the request from unions for teachers to follow the agreement as part of their work to rule.

Whilst on the subject of work to rule, can anyone tell me how the unions hope to change government policy when the only people who will be affected by the work to rule will be the senior leaders who will have to sort out any issues caused. Oh, and over time the children themselves.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 15/10/2012 - 09:02

Michael - you're correct in saying that teachers usually use their common sense about whether to do certain admin tasks or not - as you say, it can sometimes take longer to wait for a TA than do the job. And I'm sure this will continue just so long as it doesn't become something that teachers are "routinely" expected to do (eg "Mrs Smith stepped in to do the minutes for the last staff meeting, therefore she can be expected to minute every meeting," or "Mr Smith mended the faulty printer last week, therefore he can be responsible for all IT repairs."

The point that Gove forgot to mention (and now Geraint Jones) is that tasks which require no professional judgement should not be done "routinely". There's nothing to stop teachers doing them now and again. And neither the workload agreement or the unions list ad-hoc photocopying - it's bulk photocopy (producing several class sets) which is thought, quite rightly, to be the job of clerical staff. I don't think even teacher support assistants should do this if they are better employed in the areas you list above. They really are jobs that could be done by an office junior.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 15/10/2012 - 09:08

Jones's list of what he thinks state school teachers should do is laughably out-of-date. I doubt if any member of school staff, teaching or otherwise, collects cash - it's mostly done electronically. But mentioning "collecting dinner money" evokes a nostalgic picture of the 1950s when teachers spent Monday morning registration collecting five bob off each child for school dinners. Aaah - the smell of boiled cabbage, the cane in the corner, the whiff of Jeyes fluid from the outside lavatories... those were the days.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 15/10/2012 - 09:39

The point that Gove forgot to mention (and now Geraint Jones) is that tasks which require no professional judgement should not be done “routinely”. There’s nothing to stop teachers doing them now and again.

That's precisely the point Gove was making. He was NOT taking issue with the National Agreement; he was criticizing the 'orders' given by the Unions in Action short of strike action, Instructions Phase 1 to apply them cussedly and inflexibly.

You could equally well argue that a Cabinet minister's time is not best used by making tea or coffee. But the last time I went to see a Cabinet minister in this government, he walked me along to the kitchen area and made both of us a cuppa himself. How very different from the days of the last, egalitarian, socialist government where Liam Byrne issued a written diktat to his civil servants telling them:

* I like a cappuccino when I come in, an espresso at 3pm and soup at 12.30-1pm.

* The room should be cleared before I arrive in the morning. I like the papers set out in the office before I get in. The white boards should be cleared

* If I see things that are not of acceptable quality, I will blame you


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 15/10/2012 - 10:33

Oh, silly me - to misunderstand Mr Gove. I wonder how many millions also misunderstood and interpreted Gove's comments. According to you Gove wasn't taking issue with the workload agreement but just having a go at the unions who've reminded teachers of the agreement which lists tasks which require no professional judgement and that shouldn't be done "routinely".

Unfortunately, your assertion that Gove has no issues with the workload agreement is not upheld by evidence. In July, he described the tasks as "restrictive practices".


Taking Gove's remarks, Wilshaw's instructions for teachers to work harder, and now Jones's comments above, and there seems to be a pattern emerging - an attack on teachers' conditions of service with little regard to work/life balance.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 15/10/2012 - 10:42

Ricky – the Mail article was hilarious. But it doesn’t follow that because one person issued an inappropriate (and apparently ignored) edict that this crass diktat is equivalent to a national agreement signed nearly a decade ago following a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report that many jobs that teachers do could (and should) be done by non-teachers because these tasks require no professional judgement.


Special Needs Teaching Assistant's picture
Tue, 16/10/2012 - 00:07

I think Mr. Jones must be way out of touch. Some schools and an ever increasing number are being extremely efficient at making sure they don't waste money or even spend it where they should be doing. I can quite assure him assistants are not doing mundane tasks. Well unless he considers taking classes for the entire day without a teacher mundane. Oh he may retort but in that case teaching assistants will be delivering lessons planned by a teacher. Well that may be the theory. No we just have to think on our feet, hit the ground running and get on with it. Which we do, increasingly so. We do as good a job as we can because as teaching assistants we are there for the kids and want them to get as much as possible out of every learning experience. Lost count how many times teaching assistants led lessons last academic year and this year doesn't seem any different. We are not paid any extra for doing so, we are not HLTA's or cover supervisors. Try to survive on less than £10K a year, not easy, constantly nerve wracking actually. Don't even get a thank-you. Would remember if that had ever happened. Yes it is rewarding when you see kids achieving and enjoying learning. But it is exploitation. Exploitation of Teaching Assistants and their goodwill. So don't worry schools are being increasingly efficient. At the expense of lower paid staff.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 16/10/2012 - 07:03

Special Needs Teaching Assitant - it is not acceptable that TAs are expected or required to do professional work which should be done by teachers. No TA should be expected to teach classes. This may be more "efficient" (in the eyes of schools' senior management) but it is, as you say, exploitation of TAs and also detrimental to pupils.

No child should be taught by staff without a teaching qualification (see DfE definition in faqs above - but I expect you know this already).

Are you in a union?

Useful info re the role of TAs (In What Circumstances Can a Teaching Assistant Provide Cover?) can be downloaded here:


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