Curiouser and curiouser... Why would a company advising the Bush administration on Iraq want to become a partner in a school in the UK?
Richard Garner's article in today's Independent, London:
An American multinational company which gives financial backing to the US Republican Party is being linked to one of the first schools seeking trust status under Tony Blair's flagship scheme.
BearingPoint, which is also advising the Bush administration on the reconstruction of Iraq, is negotiating to provide financial and technical services to Outward Grange College in Wakefield - one of the largest secondary schools in the country with 2,100 pupils.
Outward Grange is banding together with two other secondary schools in the West Yorkshire town - Horbury School and Wakefield City High - to seek trust status by September, the earliest such a trust can be set up. A prospectus drawn up by the three schools names BearingPoint as one of four partners for the trust.
However, BearingPoint insists it is discussing providing financial and technical services only and does not want to become a partner for the trust. It describes the prospectus as a "miscommunication." But it is in talks with the Department for Education and Skills to supply "shared services" to other schools.
A petition against the Wakefield trust plan has been signed by - amongst others - Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Sally Kincaid, the union's local secretary, said: "All children's education is far too important to let business and the rigours of the free market reign in our schools." Mr Sinnott said: "Trust status hands over responsibility for children's education to unelected and unaccountable groups." A local campaign against the trust proposals has said that it is worried about the ethics of being involved with the multinational.
They cite a report in The Independent on Sunday which revealed BearingPoint has made substantial donations to the Republican Party and is now benefitting from the reconstruction of Iraq. They say the firm's political allegiance is incompatible with its involvement in the school.
At least four partners have been proposed, according to the prospectus: BearingPoint, Hi Tec Ltd (which already supplies software to Outward Grange), Wakefield District Housing and Leeds Metropolitan University. Wakefield Council has also been invited to join.
Under the terms of the trust, the school governors would take over powers to hire and fire staff and take on responsibility for land and buildings. Each partner would appoint trustees to the trust board, which would in turn appoint governors to each of the schools. The individual schools would have responsibility for their own admissions policies. Michael Wilkins, executive principal of Outward Grange, said: "It's a collaboration. We will be sharing our expertise. We don't want to break with the local authority. That's why we've invited them in as a partner. Nobody's going to benefit financially out of this."
A spokeswoman for BearingPoint said: "Whilst there is a relationship between BearingPoint and Outward Grange, the discussions are still very much at an early, exploratory stage and therefore it is too early to be able to comment further on this." She added that the prospectus "is incorrect. BearingPoint is not, nor does it have any intentions to become a partner in this trust."