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Top bosses cash in as Hackney’s famed privatised education authority prepares to end contract

Michael Gove visits Mossbourne Academy, Hackney - part of The Learning Trust

Michael Gove at Hackney's Mossbourne Academy // Photo: usembassylondon

In 2002, Hackney council became the first authority to be ordered to privatise its education services. Now, as the 10 year contract comes to a close, directors at The Learning Trust have pocketed huge pay increases – while dishing redundancies to their staff.

Bosses at The Learning Trust have seen their salaries rise by up to £74,269 since 2005, with the highest paid director now earning £217,102 a year.

But cuts at the education authority led to more than a hundred teachers and staff leaving their jobs last year after a series of redundancies. And 30 more jobs are set to be cut, including two primary school teacher posts, according to union sources.

One specialist primary school teacher, who works with gypsy children, has been told he will lose a day and a half from his working week. The change would cut his salary by about £20,000 a year.

Meanwhile, almost exactly the same sum of money was used to boost the total salary payments for Trust directors last year.

The National Union of Teachers is set to meet officials from The Learning Trust, but a source said it was their policy to strike when compulsory redundancies are made.

The private company, which is responsible for education in Hackney, is headed by Richard Hardie, Vice Chair of Swiss bank UBS. When the company transfers power back to the council this summer, directors will get to keep the high salaries they have awarded themselves because protection provided by employment laws – leaving the council to foot the bill.

Figures show that The Learning Trust paid out more than £600,000 to its directors last financial year.


Hackney council lost control over education management after it was branded the worst in the country back in 1997. The American-style school board system forced on to the borough by New Labour has overseen the setting up of the famed Mossbourne Academy in one of the most deprived areas of London. The school has been rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, with Education Secretary Michael Gove describing headteacher Michael Wilshaw a “hero”.

But the dramatic improvements have largely been credited to the new system and Wilshaw himself, rather than the removal of the old one that was failing to meet its statutory responsibilities. And, while press reports have tended to focus on the successes of Mossbourne, other schools in the area have seen standards slip.

Contrary to the efficiency of private companies Tory politicians speak of, The Learning Trust managed to spend more that £121m on “administrative expenses” in just one year. Financial details were outlined in the latest accounts published.

The company also manages to dodge transparency and accountability laws that public education authorities are subject to. Although Freedom of Information requests are accepted, the company is not obliged to comply with legislation, meaning that any complaints about transparency cannot be investigated by the Information Commissioner.

The authority has said: “The Learning Trust is not bound by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.  However as a body exercising public functions The Learning Trust is committed to doing so openly and transparently.  The Learning Trust has developed a policy which, so far as its constitution allows, complies with the provisions of the Act.”

Education services are set to be handed back to Hackney council in August as the 10 year contract comes to a close.


Update:  The Learning Trust have claimed that the term “administrative expenses”  is just an “accounting description”. A press officer said that it “covers all of our expenditure and so includes grant payments and government funds paid to school via the Trust.”

First they rip you off… then they con you – How unis twisted numbers to “cut” fees

Detail behind the stats show unis have become more elitist, rather than cutting fees. // Photo: Flikr CC, Frandroid Atreides

Earlier this month it was widely reported that 25 universities had lowered their tuition fees to £7,500. The move allowed them to access a pool of 20,000 extra students, purposely set aside by the government.

The Mail said “One English university in five is to slash tuition fees to below £7,500”. The Telegraph reported that the universities “have lowered their tuition fees to below £7,500 a year”. And PoliticsHome said “25 universities and colleges have announced they are to reduce their tuition fees”.

They were all wrong. Most of the universities did not, in fact, make any changes to their fees. It was an illusion.

Rather than course fees being lowered for everyone, the average fees have been pushed down by the introduction of new scholarships for high-achievers only. The £7,500 figure is only reached when these are taken into account. The actual fees, for everyone else, remains the same.

Figures from the Office of Fair Access (Offa) show that only three of the 25 universities now have average fees lower than £7,500 when waivers are not included.

Five of the universities still have average fees above that amount even when all means-tested scholarships are taken into account. In Offa’s books, these places do not get within the £7,500 threshold.

But although the Offa figures only take means-tested fee waivers into account when calculating averages, university bids for extra students will be based on Hefce calculations – which include all types of bursaries.

This means that some universities have been able to give the impression they are cutting fees when, in fact, they are trying to make themselves more elitist by introducing new scholarships for successful students instead.

For instance, at Aston University, a new scheme will award £4,000 to applicants with AAB at A-level. But for students without a scholarship, tuition fees are still set at £9,000.

A similar scheme at the University of Wolverhampton is for students who have “exceeded expections” and not based at all on family income. Students are awarded £1,000 in their final year to reward academic achievements if they are selected by their department. Students who do not get selected for any scholarship will have to pay an average of £8,300.

Averages fees for the University of Hertfordshire have also been affected by work placement years, where students do not have to pay tuition fees. Meanwhile, at the University of West London, a new bursary will be given to just 16 hand-picked students. Department heads nominate individuals who are given the second year of their degrees for free.

You can see the data here, or download it as a CSV file here.

The data is originally from the access agreement data (published July, 2011) and the updated access agreement data (published December, 2011). Both can be found here.

A note about the data:   Some of these figures do not quite add up because Offa accidentally rounded up the revised estimated fee averages, but didn’t round up the original figures. Offa say they will revise this on their website. Either way though, this doesn’t affect the overall picture. In the case of Wolverhampton, the larger discrepancy is caused by a course that had not been registered in time for the original figures.

Revealed: Student debt to rise to nearly £200bn; more than predicted

This blog post was also published on Liberal Conspiracy and was trailed in the Independent on Sunday

New figures released by the government have revealed that the rise to university tuition fees will cause a £124bn increase in personal debt.

Total student debt will continue to rise until 2047, when it will peak at an estimated £191bn.

This compares to official predictions made before the fees hike, which showed that debt would peak in 2027 at just £67bn.

A forecast of student debt levels was sent to Liberal Conspiracy following a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

The figures also show that, by the year 2032, an average graduate can expect to have£31,000 of debt after leaving university.

The department explained the forecast saying:

Average fee loans are assumed to be just over £7,500 in 2012/13 and both maintenance and fee loans are assumed to increase in line with inflation every year between then and 2050-51.

However, more than a third of English universities are set to charge the maximum of £9,000 and figures from the Office of Fair Access estimate the average fee to be £8,393 – not £7,500. This could mean that the peak total debt could end up being considerably more than even the official estimates suggest.

The National Union of Students told Liberal Conspiracy:

It comes as no surprise that the changes in the higher education funding system will plunge a generation into debt. No matter how the repayment system is constructed or how much some might claim that concern about debt and an incredibly complex system are not a deterrent from university, there is still a very real danger that many young people will be put off.

The headline debt figures are hugely worrying and they are coupled with the fact that the amount of financial support going directly into students’ pocket will actually decrease by 2015. The Government are presiding over a mess of their own creation and it is students that are paying the price.

Exclusive: 1 in 10 student loans are wrongly assessed

The Student Loans Company has admitted that 1 in 10 students who applied for means-tested loans this year were assessed inaccurately.

All full-time British students are eligible to receive some financial help, but the total amount depends on a student’s household income. Figures from 2010/11, released under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal an assessment accuracy of just 90.4%.

The Student Loans Company said that it “accepts that improvements have to be made in certain areas, including accuracy of assessments.” It added: “we are confident that improved results will be seen for the next academic year”.

During the last financial year, the company also had 5,810 complaints registered against them.

How councils are quietly attacking students

Back in 2007, legislation was passed that allowed councils to introduce what is called an ‘Article 4 Direction’.  This allows them to control the location and numbers of ‘Houses in Multiple Occupation’ (HMOs). Almost all HMOs are student houses.

Warwick District Council explain:  “The effect of the Article 4 Direction will be that a planning application will need to be made to the Council for the change of use of a building from a dwelling house to a house in multiple occupation.  Currently, this change of use is permitted development and no planning application is required.  The purpose of the Direction is to give the Council greater control over the location of new shared houses.”

The impact on students is expected not only to limit the choices of where to live, but also the cost of living as rent prices in popular areas could rise considerably.

Surveys shown in this document from Exeter City Council demonstrates that the people who this policy will most effect (students) are against the policy, but consultation always concludes that most people are in favour of it, because most of the population are not students. .

Leeds City Council claim that it is “recognised” that “high concentrations of HMOs can result in numerous harmful impacts including… anti-social behaviour, noise and nuisance… increased crime…”. Strange, then, that York City Council bothered to investigate such claims and were forced to admit that “Information collected to date does not indicate any significant deviations from the average across the city across a wide range of indicators such as crime, littering and noise.” In fact, the evidence they found suggested the opposite – that student areas had lower crime and anti-social behaviour levels. The report also warned that “a single characteristic of the idea of a ‘student’ is no longer possible”.

Nonetheless, York City Council, in line with dozens of other councils, went ahead and implemented the Article 4 Direction!

The report is here:

Other cities which are implementing the policy include Oxford, Newcastle, Leicester, Portsmouth, Sheffield and Bristol.

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