The collapse of Carillion – and the profound problems with too many MATs – has brought into question the entire structure of education funding and oversight, writes Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU in Tes.
The collapse of the construction company Carillion has brought into public gaze the question of how public services should be financed and delivered. Education is certainly not immune from these questions. Hard on the heels of Carillion’s collapse is a National Audit Office (NAO) report on the Public Finance Initiative (PFI), which contracts private companies to build public facilities, such as schools and hospitals, in return for regular payments over decades – in some cases up to 30 years (bit.ly/PFI12Report).
What was not factored into successive governments’ equations, was the cost of PFI projects, which the NAO now concludes, are extremely expensive. Schools, for example, cost 40 per cent more when built under PFI contracts than those financed by government borrowing. This eye-watering figure does not include the charges made by PFI companies to maintain schools. These can be horrendous – £2,000 being charged to install, and maintain, a sink; £8,000 to fit and maintain a window blind are just two examples – there are many more (bit.ly/8KBlind).
The whole question of how education is delivered is now a political hot potato. I wrote recently (bit.ly/MATScandals) about the intense pressure put on Sir David Carter, the National Schools Commissioner, and Lord Agnew, academies minister, during an evidence session of the Education Select Committee. That torrid session has now been followed up by a letter from Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Committee, to Lord Agnew.
In this confused system, those who most need to know are left in the dark. In what is, perhaps, the most damning indictment of the fracturing and privatisation of schools begun by Michael Gove – and followed by every Secretary of State since – the committee concludes: “it seems to us that parents, staff and students are in the dark over who is running their schools and that decisions are being taken behind closed doors”.
Quite where this critique leaves Michael Gove’s vision of a parent and teacher-led school system is anyone’s guess. Into the mix, we can add the excessive levels of MAT-CEO pay, at a time when teachers and school support staff labour under 10 years of austerity pay caps.
Ministers must be clear. Until they get a grip on the financial and educational accountability of MATs and free schools, ministers will encounter further scandals which will tarnish the MAT brand and raise further questions about their competence, and undermine Michael Gove’s grand MAT design.
Read Mary’s full article Michael Gove’s vision for a new education system is unravelling in front of our very eyes
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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