Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dismal Prospects

LAST month we heard about the young people sent up to London to be unpaid stewards for the Jubilee celebrations, and left to sleep under a bridge before they started their working day. The security firm employing them with the promise of paid work for some was North west-based Close Protection Ltd. which also has Olympic work coming up under sub-contract to the security big boys G4S.

But there is money to be made both ends of these arrangements, and the company which supplied the cheap but willing workforce sent up from the south-west is called Prospects Group.

If like me you can remember when firms were supposed to make their money by making stuff, then like me you might not have heard of them. But Prospects Group is one of those companies that have sprung up to take care of the public sector, and in these days of cuts and austerity they seem to be doing well. Now from leaving youngsters out in the cold it is moving on to freezing out teachers, or at least their unions.

Here is Tim Lezard reporting on the excellent Union News site:

The company responsible for Jubilee stewards rough sleeping under a bridge has this week threatened to freeze out teaching unions when it takes over a Gloucestershire school.

Parents on Monday received a letter informing them Whitecross School in Lydney is to be turned into an academy under the control of Prospects Group – a firm that makes millions out of carrying out inspections for Ofsted and is approved by Michael Gove’s education department to charge for advice on setting up academies and free schools.

And while teachers and staff are unhappy about the change to academy status, they are also concerned that Prospects Group has told them it has no intention of signing a model recognition agreement with unions.

Hannah Packham, the NUT’s senior organiser for the South West, said: “In a letter copied to us, Prospects have said that they have considered the TUC model agreement and have decided not to adopt it saying that they see ‘no need’ to do so.

“We have real concerns that a company with such a poor track record is intending to expand its chain of schools in the South West without an agreed machinery for negotiating on behalf of members.”

In 2010 Prospects Group took over the running of the nearby Gloucester Academy, a challenging school with a high number of pupils on free school meals, with English as a second language or other special educational needs.

In March inspectors found the firm’s school was “inadequate,” “fragile” and needed further monitoring. Their main finding was: “The academy has made inadequate progress. This monitoring inspection has raised serious concerns about the standard of education provided by the academy and I am recommending a further monitoring inspection.”

Prospects Group hit the headlines in June as the company responsible for providing the government’s Work Programme when it launched an enquiry into jobseekers being forced to sleep under London Bridge before the Thames pageant celebrations.

Parents were told of the proposal to turn the school into an academy by letter this week and one parent, who did not want to be identified, questioned why consultation was only taking place just days before the end of term when plans have been underway for months.

A public meeting has been called for current and future parents of pupils to debate these concerns. It will take place on July 18th at Lydney Town Hall from 6.30pm.

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