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PUBLIC SUPPORT GROWS FOR BUSINESSES RUNNING SCHOOLS

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As the privatisation of education gathers pace, new research shows that many adults believe businesses should be in...
As the privatisation of education gathers pace, new research shows that many adults believe businesses should be involved in running schools, reports The Independent (p12).

The survey of 1,000 adults by NOP Solutions for Market Assessment International forms part of a report into business involvement in education.

The report, Private sector opportunities in education 1999, explains how companies can make money out of the£24.3bn schools will be spending by 2003.

It concludes: 'Direct management of schools is a more promising avenue than it seems even two years ago because the drawbacks of capital underfunding are being reduced by the government's£5.4bn support programme.'

It points out that£1,000 invested in shares of education firms in January 1996 had risen to£1,593 by January 1999 - about£150 higher than the average for all shares.

The survey found that one in three people opposed extra tax to improve education, and seven out of eight would not agree to an extra tax burden of more than£5 a week.

However, almost nine out of 10 said the government should spend more on education. One person in four agreed strongly that teachers' salaries were too low; another one in five agreed slightly. More than one third thought teachers were paid adequately.

Almost one person in five (18%) agreed either strongly or slightly that the government should consider allowing state schools to charge fees - 'a radical departure from the century-old view that education costs should be funded out of taxation', the report added.

Three-quarters of those questioned, however, disagreed with such practices.

The report attributes the rapid advance of privatisation to the Labour government.

'One of the oddest features of the advance of private money into education is the role of the Labour government in bringing about such dramatic change. The last Conservative administration merely tinkered at the edges of state fund-raising, not daring to question the concept of free education ... It seems strange to remember that Margaret Thatcher was pilloried just for withdrawing free school milk.'

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said there was no evidence that parents wanted the private sector to run schools.

'The top priority for parents is to know their children will be happy and learning. They do not want the uncertainty of privatisation,' he said.

The government's failure to persuade companies to run education action zones showed that business was not interested. Privatisation in the US had damaged teacher morale and relationships between parents and teachers, he added.

Meanwhile, the announcement yesterday that the government expects private companies to be called in to take over services in more than one in 10 local education authorities has been dismissed by the Local Government Association, reports The Daily Telegraph (p14).

Neil Fletcher, head of education for the LGA, said that despite the government's 'strong words and threats', major privatisation of local education authority functions had not happened.

Nord Anglia had only a limited role in Hackney, he said, and authorities such as Calderdale, responsible for the Ridings School in Halifax, had successfully 'put their own houses in order' following criticism from inspectors.

Of the four local authorities deemed to be 'failing' pupils - Hackney and Islington LBCs and Leicester and Liverpool City Councils - only Hackney has so far lost services to Nord Anglia, which won the contract for school improvement.

A decision on who will take over the running of schools in Islington, is expected before Christmas. The authority agreed to all the schools service being put out to tender, but wants to retain an interest by setting up a new educational trust to oversee the private contractor.

An Ofsted report on Leicester later this week is expected to find that the authority has made progress since it was last inspected and it may avoid losing its services.

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