Unprecedented school privatisation would put profits before pupils

UNISON is warning that profits could be put before pupils, and head teachers could lose control of vital services in 80 academies across the country, as part of a proposal for an unprecedented privatisation of school services.

The union, that represents 240,000 members working in school services, has condemned a move by Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), the largest taxpayer-funded national academy school sponsor in the country, to privatise an unprecedented range of services in its schools. Given the Government’s track record, there is a real danger that such a move would turn schools into profit making businesses. 

School business managers and librarians are among the roles that could be outsourced to a joint venture company with a commercial provider, according to documents published by AET. Cleaning, finance, administration, secretaries, HR and IT staff, along with a range of other pupil support roles, could also be outsourced. 

Head teachers, teaching assistants and teachers arethe only roles that would fall outside the scope of the procurement exercise.

UNISON is alarmed as previous experience suggests that private companies will attempt to make large profits from the running of schools by cutting jobs and school services. 

The seven-year contract, estimated to be worth between £200m and £400m, is likely to affect at least 500 staff across 80 schools. However the union is warning that the real number of workers under threat could be much higher.            

The east of the country would be particularly hard hit, with 17 academies potentially affected. The south-east would see staff at 13 academies under threat, along with 12 in Yorkshire and Humberside and 10 in the south-west.

UNISON Head of Education, Jon Richards, said:

“This move to effectively remove the control of most of the school from head teachers and to put profits before pupils is a dangerous decision, and we are urging AET to stop this privatisation process. 

“Privatisation on this scale could see the head teacher lose direct control of critical services, with the potential for significant leakage of public funds into private sector profits.

“There are countless examples of private companies moving into public services and cutting back services and jobs in their drive for profits. This undermines the school ethos of team co-operation and will create insecurity and uncertainty amongst staff.  The disruption that a failing contract would cause would be enormously damaging to pupils and staff.”

The union understands that services would be transferred into a company jointly owned by AET and the company they select as their commercial partners. AET says it would remain as the majority shareholder, but this is not set out in the OJEU notice advertising the contract*.

Jon Richards continued:

“AET admits it has not undertaken a service review or a detailed options appraisal and now it seems it is unclear about the scope of its own procurement.  Its plans have all the hallmarks of the sort of ill thought out procurement that the Treasury has warned about**.

“The proposal also seems to ignore the recent worrying reports of councils having to end big contracts early, problems with transparency about profits, excessive mark up, governance and service quality.”


Notes to Editors 

*The Official Journal of the European Union advertises notices every week including invitations to tender, prior information notices, qualification systems and contract award notices.

** The Treasury has already sounded warnings about ill thought out procurement exercises: ‘Badly delivered procurements deliver badly executed projects which are more likely to be subject to escalating costs and delays, increasing the cost to the public purse and reducing the value for money achieved.’ (HM Treasury Review of Competitive Dialogue, page 5).

The privatisation plan calls into question AET’s stated Moral Purpose that “In undertaking this work, we shall remain a not for profit organisation, incorporated as a charitable company” and AET’s Core Principle “to devolve accountability nearest to the point of delivery including: the local governors of academies; the leaders at every level in them; and the students and teachers in them.”