Flow of Ideas
The Capitalisation of Schools: Federations and Academies

Glenn Rikowski, London, 1st October 2005

In recent months, New Labour's policy regarding the relationships between the capitalisation of schools, federations of schools and the Academy programme have become a little clearer. By 'capitalisation of schools' I am referring to the processes involved in transforming state revenue into profit through running, managing or sponsoring schools still in the public sector. This simultaneously involves the capacity for first creating and then the progressive generation of value and surplus value. The end point of these various paths is full privatisation, where state schools are sold off to companies for profit-making, or come to function as schools currently known as 'private' or 'independent' schools.

But in England today we are a long way off this end point. At present, New Labour is aiding and abetting companies and rich philanthropists to get a foothold in the state schools system (see Rikowski, 2005). There is no sign of a 'Big Bang' scenario where New Labour sells off swathes of schools to companies, or lets them manage schools and educational services related closely to teaching and learning for profit. Companies currently manage a few local education authorities (LEAs) and a relatively small number of schools.

Potentially, federations of schools are a strategy that takes the business takeover of schools significantly down the capitalisation road. I have written at length on federations of schools in England (in Rikowski, 2005, pp.2-10) elsewhere. But things have moved on.

First, in a speech on a visit to the City of London Academy on 12th September Tony Blair made it clear that he wanted to see a significant expansion of school federations (Blair, 2005). This would enable companies to run clusters of schools rather than single schools or LEA services. Small economies of scale could be achieved and companies would have more incentive to manage schools, making profits out of the difference between the contract price and the actual money spent on running the schools. On this last point, Blair (2005, p.2) stated that: "The logic of changing to specialist schools, of starting City Academies, of giving greater freedom to schools in who they hire, what they pay, how they run their school day, is very clear". Indeed, it is: in encouraging such measures Blair is enabling and encouraging companies to have more control over teachers' pay and conditions, thus making it easier to run schools below contract price and to extract profits. As Blair also noted: "There are at least 37 pilot federations operating across the country ... I hope to see many more in the future" (Ibid.).

Secondly, the day Blair made his speech at the City of London Academy he had made an earlier visit to Aske's Federation of Academies in Lewisham (south London). Academies are 'Independent State schools' according to Blair (Ibid.). They are controlled however, by sponsors who put in an initial 2 million and then have significant input into the curriculum and ethos of the school [1]. They also get around 20 million from the Department for Education and Skills for the building [2]. As Grant (2005, p.39) notes: "There is no obligation to adhere to national pay and conditions and the National Curriculum", for Academies. The Academies programme seems to be opening up possibilities for further federations with the emergence of the Aske's Federation. A recent article in the Times Educational Supplement indicates how the sponsors might go about making money out of Academies, and presumably even more could be made in these ways through federations of Academies. This is where Academy sponsors employ businesses and enterprises that they are connected with on 'consultancy' exercises and services (see Shaw and Paton, 2005). For example, the King's Academy in Middlesborough, sponsored by Sir Peter Vardy (a big shareholder in the Vardy Group of car dealerships) was invoiced for 78,825 by the the Vardy Group. This was for buying minibuses, publicity materials and security hire (Ibid.). Shaw and Paton (2005) give other examples for other Academies where sponsors appear to have a close relationship with businesses they are involved in.

The coming together of New Labour's policies on Academies and federations makes sponsoring and running schools more of a potential money-spinner for companies and sponsors. It is another step along the capitalisation of schools in England.


[1] Those not familiar with the nature of Academies in England, see DfES (und.) for an official view. For a critical account, see Grant (2005, pp.38-40).

[2] Grant (2005, p.39) notes that often valuable land is sometimes thrown in, some of which may be sold off for housing or others developments.


Blair, T. (2005) Fairness and Opportunity for All, Speech on Education to the City of London Academy, 12th September, at: http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page8181.asp

DfES (und.) Academies, The Standards Site, Department for Education & Skills, at: http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/academies/

Grant, N. (2005) Hands Off Our Schools: A Critique of The Department for Education and Skills' 5 Year Strategy for Children and Learners, London: Ealing Teachers Association - National Union of Teachers. Enquiries: secretary@ealing.nut.org.uk

Rikowski, G. (2005) Silence on the Wolves: What is Absent in New Labour's Five Year Strategy for Education, Occasional Paper, Education Research Centre, University of Brighton, May.

Shaw, M. & Paton, G. (2005) Academy payments under fire, Times Educational Supplement, 30th September, p.4.

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