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ppp Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
All change as term begins
students working on newsletter
Working on the last France Hill newsletter
The government has published its long-awaited White Paper on education. Its aim is the reform of secondary education - and its most controversial provision is the plan to increase the role of the private sector in helping failing schools.

This is the third case study in the News Online series on private provision of public services. On Thursday the series will look at the transfer of council estates to private and voluntary organisations to mobilise private finance. BBC News Online will also be providing extensive coverage of the TUC and party conferences, where these issue are likely to spark fierce debate.

As England's schools begin the academic year, one is already transferring to private management in what might become a model for many more to follow.

France Hill School in Camberley, Surrey, has re-opened as Kings International College for Business and Arts.

building site
Building work continues on a new "cyber centre"
It is being run by 3E's Enterprises Limited, a non-profit-making subsidiary of Kingshurst City Technology College, Solihull.

The company is being paid a fee by Surrey County Council to take over the school.

France Hill was not a bad school. It had been praised by Ofsted inspectors for its good teaching, motivated pupils and good management.

Have your say But it had suffered from competition with new specialist schools nearby - one focusing on technology, the other on languages.

Parents preferred to send their children there and, with falling numbers, France Hill faced budget problems and possible closure.

Monitoring standards

Now it has become only the second school to be privatised - the other being another 3E's and Surrey endeavour, Kings College in Guildford.

Stanley Goodchild
Stanley Goodchild: Second takeover
"We're there to make sure standards are improved and bettered," said the managing director of 3E's, Stanley Goodchild.

He is anxious to assure parents that things can only get better under this public-private partnership.

"There's a governing body. The education is free.

"We monitor to make sure that standards are improved.

"We make sure the children who come to the school use all the latest technology that we can to help with their learning and actually do achieve, and are motivated to do even better."

pupils
Hannah: "Exciting and a new challenge"
Parents such as Wendy McPherson have high hopes.

"The numbers at France Hill weren't as high as they could have been, and that obviously told on the school otherwise this whole situation wouldn't have arisen," she said.

"I think it can only be for the good."

Children moving up to Kings International from primary school were excited at the prospect of its cyber centre and internet-linked library.

Colin Caswell
Colin Caswell: Concerns
The government wants more schools, especially those which are failing, to apply for help from the private sector.

The unions have made their opposition clear.

At the Trades Unions Congress, the National Union of Teachers is putting forward a motion calling on members to reject the use of private companies in schools and local authority management.

"We're concerned that pupils could be the victims of experimentation," said the Surrey representative of the National Union of Teachers, Colin Caswell.

"Doing it in this way could put the whole of their schooling at risk."

Commons warning

And some backbench Labour MPs are also worried about the plan.

In July, the Labour MP John Cryer told the Commons private companies were "eyeing" schools and education authorities "extremely greedily".

In a short debate, he said he wanted to see proper investment in schools not privatisation.

"It worries me there may be the potential for companies to start to get investment in British education."

Mr Cryer, who has two children of school age, said lessons should be learned from Baltimore, USA, where nine schools had been "handed over" to a private company with poor results.

He called for "care in going down the road of partial privatisation".

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The BBC's Kim Catcheside
"Some Labour MPs are voicing concerns that it will... increase inequality between schools"

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See also:

20 Jul 01 | Education
16 Jul 01 | Education
15 Jul 01 | Education
05 Jul 01 | Unions 2001
25 May 01 | Mike Baker
06 Sep 00 | Education
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