Friday, November 12, 2010

Interesting times: school federations, new markets and blurred boundaries in education

Working over the years in colleges I have noticed that there has been a slightly casual use of the term “federation” – sometimes to mean merger of colleges. In schools there is a precise meaning to the term. On the Teaching Expertise website there is an excellent survey of the legal meaning and implications of the term from two education lawyers at Veale Wasbrough Vizards.

A clear and useful exposition of the legal and other issues around federations is particularly timely at a time when the education landscape is in a degree of flux. In this week's New Statesman, Dr John Dunford (former general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders) surveys what he sees as the “two different, but related, markets are being created by the Academies Act 2010”:

The first is the government's push for so-called "free" schools to be created by parent and teacher groups. The second, and potentially much larger, market being created is the provision of a range of services, from human resource management to school improvement capability, to both the new academies and to the free schools.

He concludes:

Schools are being offered by the coalition government a more autonomous way of working, with the additional funding that accompanies academy status looking very attractive at a time of economic retrenchment. Some of these academies will continue to buy services, where they are efficiently run, from the local authority, but many more will look outside the authority to the new market of entrepreneurial schools and commercial providers for their human resources and school improvement support, or even for federation under a single governing body. It is hardly surprising that so many organisations are looking at providing these services in what could become a lucrative new market

The revolution is not limited to the schools sector. The financial constraints on colleges and universities – as well as the pressures likely to flow from the market model proposed by the Browne review for higher education – may lead to an interesting reconfiguration of providers plus the growth of new entrants like the new private sector BPP University College. This may see some blurring of boundaries – a recent Financial Times article speculated on whether colleges might soon own their own university.

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