Following the release of the education white paper, it appears that the government is indeed serious about education.
However, the paper also represents a huge challenge for a great many groups. For instance, the cost of doing business in the schools market is going to go up significantly unless the companies that support the education system adopt smarter ways of working in the sector. From there being only 150 local education authority clients, there are now to be more than 18,000 individual school customers — not forgetting the voluntary-aided and independent schools, which pushes this number up to 25,000.
The white paper also begs the question: how will the newly created and still evolving Local Education Partnerships and Building Schools for the Future programme fit into all this? The government is on the threshold of the greatest capital investment in secondary education ever in the UK. Why, at the dawn of this renewal programme is it dismembering the very organisations charged with procuring this investment in our nation’s future?
Bidding to become LEPs is already considered by many private sector PPP providers to be too costly for the likely return. Will the newly independent schools be required to buy in services from the LEP? My view is that schools will be able to opt out and that LEPs will have no guarantee of income outside PFI agreements, which is an increasingly small element of BSF.
As a company, EC Harris has fully supported the academies programme. Indeed, we’re involved in the delivery of more than one-third of all the academy projects currently being built. We also recognise the advantages of foundation schools and the new trust schools proposed by the white paper. But why have three or more versions of what is essentially the same thing: independent state schools?
We applaud the drive to give pupils and parents choice, but please let’s have a single education structure that is tried and tested, rather than yet more versions of the same thing. Why not simply make every school and academy, which are established as trusts, just like the new trust schools proposed? Or is this what the government is really proposing, but just spinning it not to look that way?
Paul Foster, head of education, EC Harris