Flow of Ideas
Ambassadors of Capital: Business Leaders as Head Teachers

Glenn Rikowski, London, 19th August 2007


There is a recruitment crisis for head teachers for schools in England. In the next five years, 37% of head teachers will retire, and deputy heads ‘don’t want to be head teachers’, according to Curtis (2007). Higher pay for head teachers to attract more recruits has been ruled out by the government (Milne, 2007a, p.7). For New Labour, this is viewed as both a problem and an opportunity. A report published earlier this year (DfES & PWC, 2007) saw this situation as where the influence of business values and business folk could be extended further still in the schools system:

“Businesspeople with no classroom experience should run schools to help tackle the head teacher recruitment crisis, a report to the government is expected to recommend today” (Boone, 2007).

It did indeed recommend this: ‘ambassadors of capital’ were given encouragement to lead schools by the mighty PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) – pedagogues of schooling for capital.

Ambassadors of Capital

The PWC report argued for ‘…extending the provision of training and licensing to leaders who do not have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)’ (DfES & PWC, 2007, p.xii). The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) put it a little more subtly as being about:

“…removing barriers that may prevent a wider range of professionals with the relevant skills becoming school leaders, although there must always be a head of teaching and learning who is a qualified teacher” (DfES, 2007, p.1).

Thus, although the new business heads have overall control there should be a deputy head of teaching and learning, implying a division of labour. Meikle (2007) also pointed to the complexities of modern school organisation, which involves skills in accounting, human resources and estate management – as well as in pedagogy – as grounding PWC’s argument for head teachers schooled in the business of life and the life of business.

Having business leaders without QTS running schools is controversial. Milne noted that a ‘hearts and minds marketing campaign’ would be needed to ‘win support for the changes’ (2007b). Steve Sinnott, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, argued that the primary purpose of schools is to ‘educate pupils, not to be commercial organisations’ (in Hayes, 2007). The teacher unions will need some convincing. Part of the government’s strategy for changing perceptions and attitudes is the Future Leaders Programme, where dynamic folk are ‘intensively groomed’ to become heads in inner-London schools (Milne, 2007b). The first intake of 20 included people who had worked in the fashion, marketing and tourist industries (Ibid.). Milne (2007c) gives some case studies regarding these want-to-be heads, though he indicates that the person who was probably the first to get such a headship got a ‘hostile reception from teachers’.

Another aspect of the Future Teachers Programme is that business leaders are being asked to part with hard cash to pay 50 per cent of the salaries of these ‘ambassadors of capital’. Indeed, candidates:

“…from the Future Leaders programme were fêted at 10 Downing Street on Monday, as business leaders were encouraged to pay half the salaries of the trainee heads” (Milne, 2007a, p.6).

The role of the ‘ambassadors of capital’ is not just to inject business values into schools. They have a wider significance in being tied up with New Labour’s policy on federations of schools. With luck, they will become Federation Starship Captains as well as Ambassadors of Capital.

Federation Starship Captains

I have noted elsewhere (in Rikowski, 2005) the significance of federations of schools for New Labour’s stealthy approach to the business takeover of schools. In particular, federations offer economies of scale when headed by companies running them on a contract for profit. But first they have to be established and made hospitable to business interest and values. We can expect a lengthy softening-up process.

Michael Barber has been a key player in smoothing the way for federations and ‘distributed leadership’ in the schools system. He argued a few months before the PWC report came out that:

“The health and education reforms are at a crucial stage of transition away from command and control and this requires sophisticated strategic leadership” (Barber, 2006).

The PWC report considered a range of leadership models, and:

“…recommends that schools consider new types of leadership: a federated model brings groups of schools under one “super-head”…” (Frean, 2007).

The federated model came out particularly well, as:

“…this model can be shown to have a number of key benefits which, ultimately, impact positively on pupil performance, for example: greater capacity through more distributed leadership; economies of scale achieved through pooling resources; smoother transitions of pupils between phases; and improved progression opportunities for all members of the workforce” (DfES & PWC, 2007, p.xi – my emphasis).

In addition:

“The structure of governing bodies should also be changed, the report says, suggesting the creation of “meta-governors” working across a number of schools in a locality” (Frean, 2007).

Putting together the pieces of the jigsaw, the picture becomes clear: the door is open for business folk without QTS to become ambassadors of capital across a federation. In theory within the new federated model they could be supported by a team of “meta-governors” across the federation.


The final part of the jigsaw would involve allowing companies to run federations on a contract for profit, to appoint their own head (without QTS, no doubt) and to fix the governing bodies (as in Academies). But the full picture seems some way off at present. New Labour is moving slowly, and trying not to alarm teachers and their unions. Whether the full jigsaw is ever completed will be up to the forces of labour in the schools system. The first two stages are well under way though. Ambassadors of capital will play a preparatory role, and federations are increasingly being bulldozed through – often against the wishes of parents as well as teachers. Those ‘seeking an education that is free of capital’s fetters face growing challenges’ (Rikowski, 2004), and one of these is to ensure that ambassadors of capital do not become federation starship captains hired by corporations to run schools on contracted basis for profit.


Barber, M. (2006) Reform of our public services is a test for managers, Financial Times, 27th September, p.17.

Boone, J. (2007) Call for corporate approach to schools crisis, Financial Times, 18th January, p.7. Curtis, P. (2007) Preparing for power, The Guardian (Education), 2nd January, p.1.

DfES (2005) A New Approach to School Leadership: Independent Report, Press Notice 2007/0011, Department for Education and Skills, 18th January: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2007_0011

DfES & PWC (2007) Independent Study into School Leadership – Main Report, Department for Education and Skills and PricewaterhouseCoopers, January, RB818A, Nottingham: DfES Publications.

Frean, A. (2007) Chief executives with no teaching experience could take over schools, The Times, 19th January, p.8.

Hayes, D. (2007) School could be run by businessmen, London Evening Standard, 18th January, p.6.

Kelly, J. (2002) Business people may run state school federations, Financial Times, 19th September, p.4.

Meikle, J. (2007) Business leaders could become school heads, report suggests, The Guardian, 18th January, p.6.

Milne, J. (2007a) Future leaders relish challenge, Times Educational Supplement, 19th January, pp.6-7.

Milne, J. (2007b) Old-school heads will roll, Times Educational Supplement, 19th January, p.1.

Milne, J. (2007c) Off with her headship, Times Educational Supplement, 2nd February, p.8.

Rikowski, G. (2004) Marx and the Education of the Future, Policy Futures in Education, Vol.2 Nos. 3 & 4, pp.565-577, online at: http://www.wwwords.co.uk/pdf/viewpdf.asp?j=pfie&vol=2&issue=3&year=2004&article=10_Rikowski_PFEO_2_3-4_web&id=

Rikowski, G. (2005) Federation Starships? The Evolution of Federations of Schools in England, A Paper Presented at the Education Studies / Education Policy Research Seminar, University College Northampton, School of Education, Yelvertoft 209, 24th February. Online at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=The%20Evolution%20of%20Federations%20of%20Schools

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