How to Outsource UK State Schools effectively

Last week, I reblogged a Guardian article entitled “Teachers in England to strike over pay and pensions”. In my reblog, I asked the following open question:

Should the UK Government start outsourcing public education to improve quality and secure better value-for-money?

John Gelmini argued that before considering outsourcing there was a case for urgent and radical reform. I rebogged John Gelmini’s article entitled “Twenty ways to avoid outsourcing of Public Education in the UK“.

Regular readers will know that this blog has consistently questioned both the severity and effectiveness of reform from David Cameron’s Government; so whilst, I broadly agree with the broad thrust of John Gelmini’s argument, I do not believe that David Cameron’s Government has the stomach to deliver the reforms proposed by John Gelmini.

Where does this leave us?

Well, I believe that at the margin, there is a case for outsourcing to the private sector, or partially outsourcing, elements of public education in the UK. Let me illustrate the point referring to state schools in England & Wales.

Firstly, I need to share my political bias.  Most critically, I lean towards Libertarian, rather than authoritarian. Simply, when the state cannot delivery effectively, I believe there is a case for dismantling the state delivery system. I am not questioning state funding of state schools (which is another issue), I am questioning the effectiveness of state delivery of state schools.

Let me use the Wikipedia definition of UK state schools to pick up some key themes in England and Wales to develop my argument:

Let me try to target where I see the weaknesses in UK State Schools.

Firstly, I believe that the National Curriculum has been a huge failure, and bureaucratic monster. Originally designed to help parents with objective criteria to compare schools, it has failed to provide minimum levels of educational attainment in English and Maths across the UK. I would favor dismantling the National Curriculum, as an immediate alternative, schools should have greater freedom in adopting the National Curriculum, like the example of Academies.

Secondly, I believe that Local Authorities have been spectacularly ineffective in managing effectively state schools. These schools technically called  “maintained schools” make up the majority of the Government budget. Key features are too much bureaucracy and teachers’ unions with too much power; the result is that the UK is ranked 44th in the international league table.

So what would outsourcing look like? Well, I am not proposing a new division for major outsourcers like Capita. I am actually proposing a radical switch to  Academies and the dismantling of the maintained schools managed by the Local Authorities.

The key features of Academies are (source Wikipedia):

  • Academies are established in a way that is intended to be “creative” and “innovative” in order to give them the freedoms considered necessary to deal with the long-term issues they are intended to solve.
  • Each academy has a private sponsor who can be an individual (such as Sir David Garrard, who sponsors Business Academy Bexley) or an organisation (such as the United Learning Trust or Amey plc).
  • These sponsors are intended to bring “qualities of success” to academies, again to help them change the long-term trend of failure in the schools they replace (known as predecessor schools).
  • In return for an investment of 10% of the academy’s capital costs (up to a maximum of £2m), the sponsor is able to influence the process of establishing the school, including its curriculumethos, specialism and building (if a new one is being built).
  • The Department of Education has recently become more flexible about the requirement for this financial investment in a move to encourage successful existing schools and charities to become sponsors.
  • The sponsor also has the power to appoint governors to the academy’s governing body.
  • Academies typically replace one or more existing schools, but some are newly established.
  • The remainder of the capital and running costs are met by the state in the usual way for UK state schools through grants funded by the local authority.
  • Academies are expected to follow a broad and balanced curriculum but with a particular focus on one or more areas with current specialisms include science; arts; business and enterprise; computing; engineering; maths and computing; modern foreign languages; performing arts; sport; and technology.
  • Academies can select up to 10% of pupils by aptitude for the school’s specialism in a way similar to specialist schools.
  • Although academies are required to follow the national curriculum in the core subjects of maths, English and science, they are otherwise free to innovate, although they still participate in the same Key Stage 3 and GCSE exams as other English schools (which effectively means they teach a curriculum very similar to maintained schools, with small variations).
  • In terms of their governance, academies are established as companies limited by guarantee with a governing body that acts as a Trust.
  • The governors also act as the Trust’s Board of Directors (they are legally, but not financially, accountable for the operation of the academy).
  • The Trust serves as the legal entity which the school is part of, and the governing body oversees the running of the school (although the day to day management of the school is, as in most schools, conducted by the principal and their senior management team, who are appointed by the sponsor).


Here are some practical suggestions to pave the way forward:

  • Every year, close the worse performing schools; target the bottom quartile of the Local Authority “managed schools”.
  • Provide enormous fiscal incentives to promote Academies
  • Dismantle the National Curriculum
  • Encourage strongly qualified teachers from overseas
  • Fire consistently under-performing teachers, and withdraw their license to teach in the UK

Any thoughts?

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