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SCHOOLS MINISTER OUTLINES PLANS TO EXPAND ROLE OF PRIVATE SECTOR IN EDUCATION

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Estelle Morris, the school standards minister, has said that the private sector will be given more scope for taking...
Estelle Morris, the school standards minister, has said that the private sector will be given more scope for taking over services in failing - and successful - local edcuation authorities.

In an interview with The Financial Times (p6), the minister outlined a wide range of changes to the way the emerging market in education is to operate. The reforms will be seen as boosting the market's value to private sector consultants and operators beyond the£1.4m estimates.

'The private sector wants to know that we have the backbone to carry this policy through - and we have,' she said. The government is seeking to add more companies to irs list of designated consultants and service providers. Asked how many might be added, she said: 'The more the better.'

She said consultants brought in to tackle failing education authorities will be given powers to rake over strategic management of schools while outsourcing is evaluated.

'One of the problems we had in the past was time. We have got to begin the process of change more quickly. The consultants will become the first step in the solution not another step in identifying the problems,' she said.

Private sector contracts have been dogged by criticism that they are bureaucratic and unwieldy. The minister called for looser, more flexible 'partnerships' to be struck.

'I want the private sector to come forward with some new models. We are learning that there is no one solution to anyone's problems,' she said. New models will include 'commissions' set up with private sector help to oversee LEA reforms.

Ms Morris also wanted to encourage private sector involvement in successful LEAs that saw an opportunity to improve specific services - such as payroll or IT. 'I don't see private sector intervention as a model set by failure,' she added.

The government believes councils will opt for private sector operators in increasing numbers once the best value regime begins to bite this spring. All 150 LEAs might volunteer for some form of outsourcing, said Ms Morris.

The minister added: 'One innovation would be for the private sector to offer a service across a range of LEAs.'

The DfEE is in talks with prospective consultants and providers. It is understood the WS Atkins, Capita, Serco, Amey and Aqumen, the facilities management arm of John Mowlem, are among the companies sounded out so far.

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