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Last Updated: Friday, 9 July, 2004, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Private cash move to fund schools
The plans for education in Scotland are still under discussion
Ministers in Scotland have indicated that they are willing to accept private investment to fund specialist schools.

Sources said that the proposal, which has already been adopted in England, was in its early stages.

A number of Scottish entrepreneurs have already held talks with the executive about the plan.

But Scotland's biggest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, said business should not be allowed to get involved in return for influence.

First Minister Jack McConnell has agreed to accept the principle of private investment after talks with a group of high-flying entrepreneurs, it has been disclosed.

However, the schools would not be modelled on the independently-managed city academies mooted for England, sources have said.

Instead, they would combine public and private sector investment to create schools with more flexibility than existing schools.

Whether these would be new schools or adaptations of existing schools was still under discussion.

'Right approach'

EIS General Secretary Ronnie Smith said: "We have no problem with the principle of business money going into education but we do not think it should buy influence over what is taught or how it is taught or by whom it is taught in our public state schools."

The executive declined to name the entrepreneurs involved in the talks, but they are believed to include Tom Hunter, former Celtic director Willie Haughey and Lord Irvine, who is the chief backer of the Tory party in Scotland.

A source said: "We don't think that city academies are the right approach for Scotland, but we are already working with a number of Scottish entrepreneurs on a different model that will meet the aspirations and ambitions of young people from some of our most deprived communities.

Peter Peacock
Peter Peacock is education minister in Scotland
"The first minister and education minister have had initial discussions around a new model that will link private sector funding with public sector investment to create academies that operate with more flexibility than current schools."

But discussions were said to be "at a very early stage", with no firm decisions made.

The disclosure coincided with the launch of the government's five-year plan for education in England.

The plan calls for a shake-up of the traditional state system in England, where primary and secondary schools will be encouraged to see themselves as part of an "independent specialist system" with more freedom from Whitehall and local councils.

Sources close to Education Minister Peter Peacock said the "direction of travel" in Scotland was similar, with moves to give head teachers more control over resources, and to give heads more flexibility to design the curriculum around the needs of individual pupils.

The source added: "We are concentrating our efforts on the transition from primary to secondary by breaking down age old barriers in the teaching profession and reducing class sizes in key subjects in S1 and S2.

"We are improving the schools estate with the private sector through PPP investment.

"And we have secured reforms to the teachers' pay agreement that rewards results and permits poorly performing teachers to be dismissed. These are reforms that go with the grain in Scotland."

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