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It is becoming de rigeur these days to apologise each time one uses the word partnership. It is in danger of being ...
It is becoming de rigeur these days to apologise each time one uses the word partnership. It is in danger of being emptied of meaning. That is a pity, for it encapsulates an important statement of value in relationships.

We need to reinvent partnership, certainly in respect of public/private partnerships in education. However, let us be clear about what we mean, or at least about what we ought to mean.

Public/private partnership is not the most important issue facing us in education - that has to be attainment. PPP is only a means to an end. It is not privatisation. It is not about removing services from public ownership and public accountability.

PPP entails a continuing, fundamental relationship between the partners. It is not about diminishing the role of the public partner, its strategic and statutory responsibilities and ultimate control. By sharing risk and ceding day-to-day responsibility for service delivery, PPP enables the council to concentrate on its essential responsibilities - community leadership, promoting economic, social and environmental well-being, joining up services and setting policy.

So what should and can PPP in education mean? In good practice, I have found it to mean innovation in service delivery, often brought about through the rigours of the process of bidding for the contracts that underpin PPP.

It is a way for the public sector partner to build capability and capacity, to create a mix of skill sets, to share in scarce resources, to benefit from expertise and experience across sector and service boundaries. Not only does it facilitate thinking out of the box, it makes a new box. It brings investment, or at least makes possible the acceleration of investment. Business has to make money work - that discipline, that skill, can benefit the public sector. It opens up new opportunities for the development of staff in the public sector, new ways of working, and new rewards.

In PPP in education, the private sector partner simply cannot devalue the staff on whose performance the success of the partnership - and profit - always depends. PPP necessarily involves profit, but profit is tied to performance measured in learner outcomes, and therefore with incentives and benefit shared by the partners.

It opens new networks of resource and influence for the public sector partner. It shares risk and secures accountability. It brings focus and commitment from the service provider and frees up the public sector partner to concentrate on representing the interests of its citizens. It can help clarify that occasional confusion between the representation of the community voice and responsibility for service delivery.

There is a huge common interest across the public and private sectors in achieving a world-class education service in the UK. One good way of getting there is to engage that full range of interest. PPP in education is one means of expressing common engagement in practice. Let's use all the help we can.

David McGahey

Managing director, education, Amey

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