Profit-making schools “not something we’re interested in” says sales manager at for-profit company

Janet Downs's picture
In a puff piece in the Independent, EdisonLearning’s head of sales and marketing, Nick Ridley, denied the company was interested in profit-making schools. It’s “not part of its own agenda in the UK” said the article.

But this wasn’t what Sam Freedman, ex-advisor to Education secretary Michael Gove, told the Guardian in 2008:

“Freedman points out that both Kunskapsskolan and another American company, Edison, are for-profit, and their arrival signals that soon companies might be allowed to profit from providing good education in the UK. They are not interested for altruistic reasons. It's an investment."

The Independent names two schools EdisonLearning works with. The first is Lyons Hall School, Braintree, whose head, Andrew Smith, arrived in 2002 after a period of uncertainty. Ofsted (2009) praised the head’s “exceptional” leadership and wrote:

“Outstanding leadership and management has ensured that teachers, teaching assistants and administrative staff all have the skills they need to perform to a high level of competence.”

Ofsted didn’t mention EdisonLearning or outside consultants. Yet the picture accompanying the Independent’s article is not of the acclaimed head but EdisonLearning’s head of sales and marketing standing in the Lyons Hall playground.

According to the article, the head said EdisonLearning had “supplied the school with its core learning values: compassion, wisdom, respect, justice, courage, hope, responsibility and, that word, integrity.”

But it isn’t necessary to bring in consultants, for-profit or not, to persuade a school to adopt these qualities.

The second school, Willow Brook, Colchester, is described as “one of EdisonLearning's most recent partnerships.” Ofsted (May 2013) acknowledged the school used outside consultants “in its drive for improvement.” But Ofsted also says the local authority (LA) provides “appropriate support”. This combined assistance “has had a positive impact on teaching and learning”.

In other words, improvement in teaching and learning is supported not just by EdisonLearning but because Willow Brook has LA backing as well.

EdisonLearning is perhaps best known for its involvement in Turin Grove School (formerly Salisbury School), Edmonton. In April 2007, EdisonLearning took over the running of Salisbury, an improving school taken out of Special Measures in 2005. According to the company, the number of pupils achieving the benchmark 5+ GCSEs A*-C including English and Maths (5+A*-C inc E+M) rose from 11% [2006] to 27% in 2009 and was predicted to rise to 30% in 2010.

Results didn’t rise in 2010 but stayed at 27%. Nevertheless, it appears EdisonLearning more than doubled the proportion attaining 5+ A*-C inc E+M during its 3-year intervention. But EdisonLearning didn’t take over Salisbury School until April 2007 so could have had little impact on the 2007 results when 22% of pupils achieved 5+ A*-C. It would be more accurate, then, to say the number of pupils reaching the benchmark rose from 22% to 27% while EdisonLearning was running the school. Doesn’t sound quite so impressive, does it?

The article reads rather like an advertisement despite containing a warning from Christine Blower, NUT, about the introduction of profit-making schools in England. However, this was followed by “That remains to be seen” and ended with EdisonLearning’s sales manager saying profit-making was “not something we're particularly interested in. It is a non-argument as far as we're concerned."

But it’s an “argument” that needs to be aired and brought into the open before the next election.

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