Who’s done the homework?
The controversial and muchvaunted tactic of turning schools over to private enterprise – touted by ACT in New Zealand in its charter school policy – is in trouble in northern hemisphere countries.
Trends there should worry party tacticians who hammered out the deal that put John Banks into Parliament to push that charter system through. In return, the Key-lead coalition got an allimportant majority of one.
But did the elected Cabinet buy a pup? One charter school is apparently already asking local schools to teach some subjects for it – meaning it can’t do the job it’s getting government money for.
Worrying northern developments include: British taxpayerfunded academy chains have paid millions to private businesses of directors, trustees and their relatives. These facts were in documents obtained by The Guardian newspaper through freedom of information requests.
Payments to UK schools for a range of services include consultancy fees, curriculums, IT advice and equipment, travel, expenses and legal services by at least nine academy chains. Education parliamentary secretary Michael Gove faces criticism over failure to monitor the millions paid to academy-linked firms.
Grace Academy, running three schools and set up by the Tory donor Lord Edmiston, paid more than £1million either directly to or through companies owned or controlled by Edmiston, trustees’ relatives and to members of the board of trustees. Payments include £533,789 to International Motors Limited, a company Edmiston owns. More than £173,000 went to charities Grace Foundation and Christian Vision – both set up by Edmiston. And £108,816 was paid to a company controlled by the son-in-law of one trustee.
Grace Academy also employs Gary Spicer, Lady Edmiston’s brother, as its executive director on a salary plus pension.
Spicer’s own company was handed more than £367,732 from Grace Academy over the last six years for consultancy work.
Britain’s largest taxpayerfunded chain, the Academy Enterprise Trust, has revealed almost £500,000 paid to private businesses owned by its trustees and executive. Quite a gravy train. Leigh Academies Trust has paid £111,469 consultancy fees since 2010 to Shoreline, a private company founded by Frank Green – Education Secretary Michael Gove’s newly appointed schools commissioner.
Partnership Trust Academies, converting more than 30 schools to academies, paid £424,850 over two years for legal services to Wrigleys Solicitors where trust director Christopher Billington is a partner.
In trail-blazing Sweden, which once set a worldwide reform pattern, one of the biggest private education firms went bankrupt, abandoning 11,000 students and making Stockholm rethink its pioneering market reform.
One in four Swedish secondary schools is making a loss.
Sweden’s deregulated school market is now being reconsidered, raising questions over private sector involvement in other areas like health. Understandably, there is criticism of practices – like letting students decide when they have learned enough and keeping no record of their grades.
Tomas Tobe´ , head of the Swedish parliament’s education committee: ‘‘I think we have had too much blind faith that more private schools would guarantee greater educational quality.’’
Eva-Lis Siren, head of Lararforbundet, Sweden’s biggest teachers union: ‘‘I’ve often said it’s been easier to start an independent school than set up a hot-dog stand. In the push toward freedom of choice, sight was lost of quality control.’’
The Swedish opposition Green Party – a long-time supporter of privately run schools – now backs the clamp-down. It apologised in a Swedish daily headlined: ‘‘ Forgive us, our policy led our schools astray’’. Might be worth saving that quote.
The John Key Government and and its lap dog ACT may need it if charter schools here go the way of Britain’s and Sweden’s schools.
Gravy train? John Banks and Education Minister Hekia Parata at a charter schools announcement in Auckland in 2012. The overseas model isn’t all it was intended to be.