Councillor critical of ‘time consuming, tedious X Factor’ style of selecting sponsors to run new Cambridgeshire schools

Cllr Peter Downes.

Cllr Peter Downes. - Credit: Archant

A councillor claims an X Factor style system of selecting sponsors to run new schools in Cambridgeshire is “time consuming and tedious” and at up to £70,000 each time is too expensive.

Councillor David Harty, cabinet member for learning

Councillor David Harty, cabinet member for learning - Credit: Archant

Lib Dem councillor Peter Downes says the county council is no longer allowed to set up a new school but must go through an “extremely laborious” process to commission new schools from outside providers who could come from anywhere in the country.

“Having reviewed all those, a long list of providers is produced and these providers do an evening presentation to members of the community,” he said.

“It’s a bit like the X Factor where they keep coming on in turn and saying they they’re passionate about education and things like that. Then after that they are interviewed at length and in detail and at the end of the day we make a recommendation and the Secretary of State decides who gets the job.”

But Mr Downes says that as in the case of Ely – where the county council spent a long time discussing options for the academy sponsors of a new primary school- it was turned down by the Government “on technical and legal grounds”.

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Now the county council was about to go through the same process of finding a provider for a new secondary school in Littleport “and we have about another 15 schools to do in the next few years.”

His comments are contained in written questions and answers provided by the county council from their December meeting in which Mr Downes invited the cabinet member for learning, David Harty, to agree to “share my concern that this is a totally unnecessary process? It is highly costly, it costs between £60-70,000 without a brick being laid, it is time consuming, tedious and there is no evidence whatever that the school commissioned at the end is any better than the school that would have been commissioned had we been doing it as we used to do it.”

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Mr Harty responded that “I do share your concern” and promised to “follow through” a suggestion from Mr Downes that the process is challenged with the Government.

Mr Downes said a “cross party” approach to Education Secretary Michael Gove and minister of state David Laws was needed since the question remained whether the county could afford this process “in a time of austerity”.

He added: “I know the legislation was introduced by the Labour Party some years ago but it totally irrelevant.”

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