Who’s done the home­work?

Auckland City Harbour News - - OPINION -

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.

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