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Monday, 16 July, 2001, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
'Spin' jibe over school privatisation
A teachers' leader has accused the prime minister of coming up with political spin to try to defuse the anger over the government's plans for private involvement in the public sector.
But his Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, confirmed on Sunday that the publication of the government's education White Paper - expected finally this week - had been postponed again, at least until September.
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, claimed this had been done to accommodate the prime minister's speech.
"He would have been uncomfortable with the detailed proposals," Mr McAvoy said.
'Ignore the spin'
"His spin is designed to defuse the anger at the prospect of governing bodies of schools transferring to the private sector the management of schools and the responsibility for delivering education.
"This transfer will provide private companies with a majority of places on governing bodies with the power to direct teachers and vary their terms of employment.
"Until the White Paper is published the prospect of such privatisation remains. Teachers should ignore the spin and await the substance."
Ms Morris said the postponement had been for practical reasons connected with the closeness of the end of the school term in England.
She did say there were "really tough decisions to be made" over private sector involvement in education.
Opposing profit motive
The "bottom line" was that standards had to be improved - but head teachers ran schools.
"What is key about a school is that the head teacher has the power and authority and freedom to run that school," she said.
Mr McAvoy said: "The union will continue to oppose any proposals which allow profit from the provision of education or result in teachers being employed and directed by a private company.
"Teachers teach to advance the prospects of their pupils not to increase the profits of private companies."
Mr Blair did not give any more details of what is planned in practice.
The general secretary of the second biggest teachers' union, Nigel de gruchy of the NASUWT, said there was much speculation that the postponement was not entirely due to the fact that it would have coincided with the start of the summer holidays.
"There is also enormous speculation of further differences of view between No 10 and the Department for Education and Skills. There is nothing new in that," he said.
"The messages being received by both TUC and NASUWT over the issue of privatisation are confusing and contradictory."
In its initial Green Paper consultation document, published in February, the government said: "We intend to develop a new model which would enable an external private or voluntary sector sponsor to take responsibility for a weak or failing school against a fixed-term contract of, say, five to seven years with renewal subject to performance.
"This would create a new way for private and voluntary sponsors or existing successful schools to support the management of weak or failing schools."
It was said that this would develop the model used at the failing King's Manor school in Guildford, Surrey.
There the country council agreed that 3Es, a charitable foundation spun off from The City Technology College, Kingshurst, should set up and run a new school - Kings College - for 10 years.
Since then Surrey has done another deal with a private education company, Nord Anglia, to take over the running of another of its secondary schools.
In its election manifesto, Labour said: "Services need to be highly responsive to the demands of users. Where the quality is not improving quickly enough, alternative providers should be brought in.
"Where private-sector providers can support public endeavour, we should use them. A 'spirit of enterprise' should apply as much to public service as to business."
In a recent interview in the Financial Times, the School Standards Minister, Stephen Timms, alarmed teachers' representatives by suggesting that individual school departments, not necessarily only failing ones, might be run "for a time - or maybe indefinitely - by a contract organisation".
He also suggested that teachers might be employed by the private sector rather than by local education authorities.
Nigel de Gruchy said: "Some sources say that the extremely controversial interview given to the FT by the new Minister of State, Stephen Timms, was a 'cock-up'. Other sources say that it was simply premature.
"Whatever the truth, it is high time that the prime minister realised the enormous damage being done to the morale of public servants by the constant emphasis on the need to involve the private sector in improving services."
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