How did a private Turkish university and the Carlyle Group, a global asset management company, end up in the mix to run three rural schools in Oxfordshire?

Fiona Millar's picture
It is an interesting question isn’t it?

Earlier this year the government announced its intention to push English schools and academy chains vigorously out into the global schools market. There are rich pickings out there. It is an international business worth over $4 trillion dollars. See the piece I wrote about this in the Guardian at the time.

But in a curious, and possibly inevitable twist of fate, it would appear that the reverse is starting to happen. We have heard about the Swedish school companies like IES and Kunskapsskolan getting a foothold in English schools, but now other overseas school chains are edging into the English market.

Take the case of these three rural schools in what would appear to be an idyllic rural setting near Bloxham in Oxfordshire: The Warriner secondary school, which boasts the largest school farm in the country, and two of its primary partner neighbours, Sibford Gower Endowed primary school and Hornton Primary school.

These three schools are currently undergoing a consultation with parents about becoming a small academy chain under the auspices of the Mentora Academy Trust, described to parents as a “sponsorship vehicle” in recent consultation documents.

It isn’t altogether clear what a “sponsorship vehicle” actually is, since Mentora isn’t listed on the DFE’s approved sponsors list. However it does have a registered address in Bristol and a group of directors, one of whom is Dr Annabel Kay, the headteacher of The Warriner School, although the consultation letter to her school’s parents doesn’t mention this fact.

Also registered at the same Bristol address is the Bau Foundation, the “parent” company of Mentora. These organisations share some trustees, Lord Michael Bichard who used to be the permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Dame Anna Hassan, a retired London headteacher.

As Janet Downs explained here earlier this year, both these trusts were incorporated in August 2013 and managed to become one DFE approved academy sponsor, the Bau Foundation Mentora, within a few weeks. Today only the Bau Foundation is listed on the DFE site. Neither Bau nor Mentora has a website or any apparent assets. The process by which they were gifted the three Oxfordshire schools is of course secret ( I think the DFE describes this as commercial confidentiality). Indeed it is hard to find out any more information about Bau and Mentora beyond a link on the DFE website which takes you to contact details for all academy sponsors.

This tells us that contacts for the Bau Foundation are Lord Bichard, and Christine Megson, an educational consultant who appears to have previously worked for another edu-consultancy business Zail Enterprises.

Just as a small aside it is interesting to note that Zail, which has stated that it “will become the leading provider in private sector led state schools”, was set up by Wey Education plc, which also set up the Wey Educational Schools Trust, which (surprise, surprise) is also listed by the DFE as a potential academy sponsor. Complicated as it may be to disentangle these links, it would appear that a pattern is emerging in the private company/academy sponsor relationship.

But that isn’t where the Bau Mentora story ends. Also on the Bau Foundation Board is Enver Yucel, a Turkish education entrepreneur who is currently the chair of the Bahcesehir Ugur Educational Institutions – a profit making Turkish education provider company, 48 % of which is owned by the global asset management company, the Carlyle Group.

This organisation  runs Bahcesehir K12 schools and Bahcesehir University, a private university. Mr Yucel has been giving interviews to the Turkish media about his company’s good fortune in being handed three schools by the English government, even though the consultation with parents in Oxfordshire doesn’t end until mid December.

In his interview he explains that the state has handed over these schools to the private sector and will pay £6000 per pupil with an overall annual budget of £6-7 million.

Boarding houses will be built, he claims, so Turkish children enrolled at his schools can be educated in England and the English children will also be able to come to his schools in Turkey. He also explains that his aim is to run 15 English schools within three years (Bau is also reported to be interested in free schools in Haringey and Enfield)

Coincidentally Mr Yucel is on the board of another company Capital Education Services Ltd, also listed at the same registered address in Bristol as Bau and Mentora. His only fellow director is Huseyin Yucel, also a Bau board member and vice –president of Bahcesehir K12.

It isn’t immediately apparent what this fully for profit company will be doing but let me hazard a guess? Selling  educational services to Bau, Mentora and other academy trusts possibly?

In this interview in an Italian English language newspaper Enver Yucel is quoted as saying of his company “We aim to become one of the biggest educational institutions in the world.”

Rural Oxfordshire may be just another small step along the road to global domination. But this complex web of different organisations behind just one small federation of schools does beg the question of how many more private firms, edu-folk, and global private equity companies are currently getting together and gearing up to take over our schools?

And perhaps more importantly  - how much will parents really know in the future about:

  • Who runs their children’s schools?

  • Who decides who runs their schools?

  • How those decisions are made?

  • What other interests lie behind the local face of the people who run their schools?

  • Where the real power and accountability (and money) lies?

Post script

It has been suggested that this post, referring to Mr. Enver Yucel, BAU Foundation and the Mentora Academies Trust and their proposed sponsorship of three schools in Oxfordshire, implied a lack of transparency, administrative impropriety and the involvement of the Carlyle Group.

 It was not my intention to suggest that Mr. Yucel, the Foundation or Mentora Academies are responsible for the lack of transparency in the sponsorship process administered by the Department for Education, nor that there was any impropriety or such behaviour on their part, and if that has caused any distress I apologise.


Fiona Millar









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