Government funding for Pearson-backed Bridge International Academies should stop, say cross-party MPs

Janet Downs's picture

A cross-party committee of MPs isn’t convinced the Department for International Development (DFID) acted correctly when it provided grant funding to Bridge International Academies (BIA) in Nigeria in 2014.

BIA, backed by global edu-business Pearson, is controversial.  And the House of Commons International Development Committee has doubts about DFID’s involvement with BIA.    This is despite the MPs finding some positives about BIA:

  • ‘…elements of Bridge’s model are innovative, impressive and scalable’ in areas where education was ‘generally poor’ due to scarce resources.
  • There was a demand in highly populated areas from parents who could afford BIA fees.

In a letter to the then Secretary of State for International Development in April 2017 (see here, scroll down) the Committee expressed concern about support for low-fee schools in general:

  • DFID doesn’t have a ‘clear, evidence-based approach’ to justify support for low-fee schools.
  • More research is needed to assess their impact on children’s learning outcomes.
  • Evidence so far suggests most low-fee private schools do not serve the ‘poorest and most marginalised’ children.
  • There’s little evidence showing low-fee schools produce ‘better learning outcomes’ than government schools once ‘social background’ of children is factored in.

The Committee recommended DFID only invest in low-fee private schools where there was ‘clear evidence’ that such schools are targeting children who wouldn’t otherwise receive education in a government school.

In the specific case of BIA, the Committee wasn’t just unhappy about DFID’s grant funding to BIA but wanted to know the ‘rationale behind the substantial investments’ made by CDC, the UK’s Development Finance Institution  wholly owned by the UK Government which supports the building of businesses in Africa and South Asia.

Evidence received by the Committee raised ‘serious questions’ regarding BIA’s ‘relationships with governments, transparency and sustainability', the MPs told the Minister.   It recommended that DFID made no further investments in BIA until independent evidence showed BIA schools were producing ‘positive learning outcomes for pupils’.  Even then, the MPs would still want evidence that BIA was educating the ‘very poorest and most marginalised children’ who were not provided for elsewhere.

In its press release about the Committee’s report, BIA cherrypicked the few positive findings.  BIA welcomed the Committee’s ‘recognition that the private sector has an important role to play in tackling the global education crisis’:

Bridge International Academies joins with the UK Parliament in calling for non-state actors to help address the global learning crisis,’ BIA chirped.

This rather overstates the Committee’s support for low-fee private schools. Rather than welcoming ‘non-state actors’,  MPs said DFID support should ‘primarily’ be given to free government schools ‘in order to reach the maximum numbers of children’.    MPs made it clear that investment in low-fee schools should only be made in exceptional circumstances.

BIA’s response didn’t mention the MPs’ recommendation that DFID investment in BIA should cease.  Let’s hope the media doesn’t just churn BIA’s press release and checks what MPs actually said. 

More articles re BIA are here and here

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Matthew Bennett's picture
Sat, 25/11/2017 - 17:44

According to Tamasin Cave, the DfE -- or, more specifically, Lord Nash -- was also cosying up to BIA, although the Dept. was reluctant to give any details.

'What about discussions between schools minister, Lord Nash, and ed tech companies? Could I have details of the "private" meeting requested by Nash with darlings of the ed tech world, Bridge International Academies, for instance? The Department has "no records of this meeting", and yet, according to Bridge International Academies, it definitely took place.'

As LSN readers will know, Nash is the private equity boss who served as 'academies minister' from 2013 until this year -- when he was replaced by Theodore Agnew, another financier with a philanthropic interest in schools.  See this recent piece by Warwick Mansell:


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 27/11/2017 - 10:35

Thanks Matthew.   I didn't know about a meeting between Lord Nash and BIA.  I found this  TES  article (10 Feb 2017) which said:

'A Bridge International spokesperson said: “Lord Nash and Shannon May met last year to discuss the innovative Bridge funding model and strategy to target under-served communities..."'

The DfE declined to comment because it was a 'private meeting'.

BIA is backed by Pearson which also backs the Omega Schools Franchise which operates low-fee schools in the global south.  Omega was founded by James Tooley who's behind plans to set up low-fee private schools in the UK.    His schools would use the off-the-shelf Core Knowledge UK, a rehash of the US Core Knowledge written by  E D Hirsch and published in the UK by Civitas. The first book in the series 'What your Year One Child Needs to Know' was edited by Annaliese Briggs, the short-lived head of Pimlico Free School, the free school started by Lord Nash's Future Academies.

A former CEO of Future Academies, Jo Saxton,  is a 'supporter' of Parents and Teachers for Excellence (PTE), a supposed grass roots organisation promoting 'excellence' in UK schools.   Saxton is now CEO of a Turner Schools Multi Academy Trust.   Turner Schools will use Core Knowledge UK.  Another MAT which uses Core Knowledge UK is Inspiration Trust., the trust set up by Lord Agnew who's now schools minister in the Lords.  Inspiration Trust's Dame Rachel de Souza is co-director of PTE along with venture capitalist and Brexiteer Jonathan Moynihan. 

What a tangled web is being spun.


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