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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
'Parent power' in school funding
parents
Parental choice will affect payments
By BBC News Online's Sean Coughlan

A school's popularity with parents is to influence funding, in a radical plan for private sector involvement in state education.

Surrey County Council will next week award an innovative contract to a private company - which will be expected to win the support of parents and attract more pupils at a state secondary school.


The progress of these schools will be watched very carefully. There are struggling schools across the country and so-called traditional methods are not working

Simon Shepard, Surrey County Council
This contract will place particular emphasis on improving the school's "desirability" in the eyes of local parents - with extra payments if the number of first preference applications increases.

This management company will be paid a fee for six years to help run Abbeylands school in Addlestone, but much of the management fee will be performance-related.

As well as rewarding greater parental popularity, there will be extra money for the private contractor when academic standards are improved, such as increasing the number of pupils achieving five good GCSEs.

Empty places

The two companies which are on the shortlist for winning the tender are believed to be Vosper Thorneycroft, best known as defence contractors, and the education company, Nord Anglia.

The school at present is struggling to attract applications - with its intake currently running at about half its capacity.

And there are additional concerns that many attending the school have not chosen to go there - but have failed to find places elsewhere.

The private sector partner will be expected to change the school's image - including a new name - so that it can compete with other more popular schools in the area.

The local authority has already pioneered the use of the private sector in turning around individual schools, with the privately-run King's College having been created as an alternative to closing a failing school.

Privatisation

In the case of Abbeylands, although the exam league table performance is below local averages, the school is deemed to be making improvements academically.

But the school has struggled to improve how it is perceived by parents.

This has presented the education authority with the difficulty that three other local schools are oversubscribed, while places remain empty at Abbeylands.

"Improvements have been made, but we felt that something more radical was needed," says Simon Shepard, the county's head of education planning and development.

And, he says, that in pursuing an improvement in schools, "organisational structures are not sacrosanct".

"The progress of these schools will be watched very carefully," he says. "There are struggling schools across the country and so-called traditional methods are not working."

Once the contractor has been chosen, the proposals will be put before the council for formal adoption.

The re-launched school is scheduled to open in September 2002.

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See also:

06 Sep 00 | Education
Private state school starts work
22 Mar 00 | Education
Private firms could run more schools
04 May 99 | Private
The Guildford experiment
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