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The BBC's education correspondent Mike Baker
"It is bottom of the league tables and few parents make it their first choice"
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Education Secretary, David Blunkett
"Diversity within the system is crucial"
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Chairman Nord Anglia, Kevin McNeany
"We will have a far more detailed involvement with the education"
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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 23:31 GMT 00:31 UK
Private firm to run ailing state school
Abbeylands Comprehensive
Nord Anglia wants the school to specialise in business
A private company has been awarded a contract to run a struggling state school in Surrey for profit.

Education company Nord Anglia will manage the Abbeylands Comprehensive school in Addlestone, Surrey, in return for a fee.

This will include bonus payments if the number of first preference applications increases and exam results are improved.

The school is at the bottom of the league tables and has been struggling to attract applications, with its intake currently running at about two-thirds capacity.

There are other things that can be done within the existing framework that are more promising

Professor Harry Brighouse
There have also been concerns that many pupils have not chosen to go there, but have failed to find places elsewhere.

Director of education for Surrey County Council, Dr Paul Gray, said: "It was clear that these were exceptional circumstances and needed an exceptional solution."

Nord Anglia, which won a seven-year contract, will be expected to change the school's image - including giving it a new name - so that it can compete with other more popular schools in the area.

'Clean break'

The company wants to make Abbeylands the first school specialising in business and enterprise and believes the private sector can make a difference.

Nord Anglia's Kevin McNeany said it was an opportunity for a clean break with the past.

Director of education for Surrey County Council Dr Paul Gray
Dr Paul Gray: "Exceptional solution"
"The school has an opportunity to go forward," he said.

"That wouldn't have been possible without the intervention of a private sector partner."

Surrey County Council 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.

US example

The number of state schools with private sector backing in expected to increase in the UK, as both Labour and the Conservatives are looking for inspiration from examples in the United States.

In the US, private firms offer financial backing for the local authority schools, which remain free to pupils.

But the BBC's education correspondent Mike Baker says widespread transformation of the state sector is expected to meet resistance from teachers' unions who fear a two-tier education system.

Professor Harry Brighouse, of the Institute of Education, also believes private backing is an unwise move.

"There are other things that can be done within the existing framework that are more promising, that will be less costly and less of a shot in the dark," he said.

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See also:

15 May 01 | Education
'Parent power' in school funding
24 Mar 01 | Mike Baker
Business moves into UK and US schools
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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