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Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
US company wins school contract
Colbayns High School
The link-up with Edison Schools is expected to last two years
A United States education company aiming to run state-funded schools has won its first contract in Britain.

Edison Schools has been asked to provide a package of curriculum development, home-school partnerships and teacher training for Colbayns High School in Clacton, Essex.

And the company is negotiating with Essex County Council to provide services to another four schools, centred on a drive for "continuous improvement" by both pupils and teachers.

Education watchdog Ofsted has said the 1,700-pupil comprehensive Colbayns had "serious weaknesses", which put it only one level above being an officially failing school.

First deputy head teacher William Barnard said the link-up with Edison was expected to last at least two years.

We see it as a very exciting development. We see it as being very good for pupils and staff
First deputy head teacher William Barnard
He stressed that while Edison may bring in some of its US-based staff, Colbayns would remain in charge of the scheme and none of its teachers would be transferred to the company's control.

Edison would be working with 12 to 14-year-olds, who would be reorganised into three "learning clusters" of about 90 pupils, Mr Barnard said.

Twice a term they will take computerised English, maths and social development tests which will be electronically marked to give instant feedback, according to Edison.

The system was designed to ensure staff had an "intimate knowledge" of every child in each group, said Mr Barnard.

Mr Barnard said: "We see it as a very exciting development. We see it as being very good for pupils and staff."

Like many secondary schools in Essex, Colbayns had been hit hard by financial contraints and cut several teacher posts by "natural wastage", said Mr Barnard.

But the Edison contract, which he estimated as worth about 60,000, was being paid for out of a separate pot of government money, aimed at helping struggling schools to improve.

Under criticism

Edison Schools was founded in 1992 and its website says it now serves 110,000 pupils in 20 US states, including "charter schools", which are free to pupils but are run by the company.

But it has been criticised by opponents of privatised education across the US, who have claimed the company tries to keep out pupils with special needs to boost results on which its income depends.

The company has yet to make a profit and was recently forced to issue a denial that it had defaulted on loan debts.

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