19 September 2012

Dramatic u-turn on college plans

Plans to build on open space in New Bedford Road have been dramatically withdrawn by Barnfield College following weeks of protests by residents.

Locals living in the Bushmead and Barnfield area campaigned tirelessly against the plans which included building an 88-bed care home, a high dependency unit, housing, and flood-lit pitches.

Luton Borough Council received a request from Barnfield College’s agents to withdraw the application yesterday.

Alan Euinton, Interim Principal at Barnfield College said: “We are a listening organisation and therefore committed to taking on board the opinions of our local residents. For this reason we have completely withdrawn our original master plan. We are now looking at new and affordable ways to enhance and develop our student buildings and facilities as well as addressing the concerns raised during the consultation process.”

Residents’ main concerns were for the loss of green space and the increased traffic congestion the plans would cause.

Campaigner Rubina Zaidi of Blandford Avenue said: “Obviously I am pleased to hear this news and I hope that before submitting any alternative proposals Barnfield takes the council’s advice and consults the public. We will have to wait and see.

“It is heartening news and I would give it a cautious welcome until we see some alternative proposals. I hope Barnfield will save the open green space and not be car-hungry in increasing traffic.

“We have had the most amazing support from the local residents and from the local media - the Luton News and Three Counties.It’s given us the space on air and in print to express our concerns and I think the local media have done a valuable service to the residents.”

The green space was given to the college by Luton Borough Council free of charge in the 1990s.

17 September 2012

Education in brief: protesters force college to change its plans

A further education college that seemed poised this year to become the first state-funded institution in England to be run for profit has been forced to reconsider a planning application to build on its sports fields after a major protest by residents.

Barnfield College in Luton had hoped to develop its 14.3-hectare (35-acre) site with a new college building, an 88-bed care home, up to 39 houses and a "free school", while also redeveloping its sports pitches. But campaigners who oppose the £25m plans say 382 people had complained as of last week, while Luton borough council's planning application website has 27 pages of letters of complaint.

Residents seem most unhappy that a substantial part of the area, which, they say, was passed by the local authority to the college free of charge in the 1990s and is used extensively as open green space by the community, would be lost, and that traffic would grow significantly.

In March, the Guardian revealed how Barnfield, which is part of a chain of academies and free schools, would become a profit-making body if plans to allow a proportion of its financial surplus to be paid to shareholders won the approval of its board. The notion of a profit-making institution gaining from what had been publicly maintained land had added to campaigners' ire, said Rubina Zaidi of the Barnfield Development Action Group.

However, Barnfield says its original planning application had been "completely withdrawn" and also that the profit-making proposal had not yet gone ahead. The college is now looking at "new ways to enhance and develop the site that will entirely remove the various concerns raised by local people", says Alan Euinton, its principal.

Luton borough council says it has yet to receive notification that the application was being withdrawn.

29 August 2012

On the march over sell-off bid

Protestors armed with placards marched across Barnfield College playing fields to campaign against plans to build on the land.

About 200 people attended a public meeting at Bushmead Community Centre on Thursday before proceeding to the site where they marched with banners and placards.

They object to plans to build a new primary school, 88-bed care home, dependency unit, housing and floodlit sports pitches on the site, mainly on the grounds of increased traffic congestion and loss of green space.

Campaign committee member Sue Gold said: "It was a brilliant turnaround for the meeting and protest over 200 people which was great considering it's summer holidays.

"We are just making sure everyone is submitting their objections. We are a community and we are coming together."

The deadline for objection to the planning application is August 31, but Sue said there is a glitch on the council's online system which means people are unable to register their objections properly.

She said: "The council are aware of the issue, it makes it even harder for us to object properly. It's clear everyone is still quite fired up though given the attendance at the second meeting."

Barnfield College said they are consulting with residents about the plans and take residents' concerns very seriously.

However, residents who attended the meetings say they have never been approached by Barnfield for their views.

Sue said: "Putting a notice up telling us what they plan to do is not consulting."

Alan Euinton, interim principal at Barnfield college, said: "Residents' views are being listened to and taken into consideration and we plan to address these issues via the consultation process. This plan is intended to benefit our students and the local community as well as offer better quality sports facilities for all."

David Hoffman of Sherborne Avenue in Luton is objecting to the proposed development on the grounds of it not complying with the council's street naming and numbering policy.

The policy states that buildings, including those on corner sites, are numbered according to the street on which the main entrance or letterbox is found and manipulation of numbering in order secure a 'prestige' address or to avoid an undesired address will not be sanctioned.

Mr Hoffman said: "Barnfield College, by giving its address as New Bedford Road, is clearly using this as a 'prestige' address and therefore it must provide its main entrance on that road. all its entrances in the proposed plans are on Barnfield Avenue."

26 August 2012

MORE than 200 residents marched in protest this week over a college's plan to develop its playing fields.

The Barnfield Development Action Group (BDAG) met on Thursday evening at Bushmead Community Centre as they continued their campaign against Barnfield College's proposals to build on its fields.

Under the plans, Barnfield would construct a replacement college building, move the Barnfield Moorlands Free School to the site in Old Bedford Road and build 39 new homes, a 88-bed care home and new sports facilities.

Angry residents have contested the plans, with the latest meeting following one that took place earlier this month.

A BDAG spokesman said: "It is unfortunate that the timing of this application has come across the summer holidays as schools and colleges in the area are closed and many people are away on vacation.

"So anyone looking at the area would not see a true picture of how the local roads including A6, Barnfield Avenue, Old Bedford Road and Kingsdown Road are already at peak usage during 'rush hour' times.

"Everyone was reminded of the deadline date for objections to be received although the BDAG committee has written a formal request to David Gauntlett, a planning officer, for this to be extended as several residents have been unable to post their objections on line as the council's system is not working and may not be rectified for several months."

A Luton Borough Council spokeswoman said: "We will accept comments from the Barnfield Development Action Group Committee within a reasonable period after the consultation deadline."

Barnfield released a statement saying: "We are still in a consultation period and committed to listening to and taking on board the opinions of our local residents."

25 August 2012

Keep the flame alive: Labour demands answers from Department of Education

Labour has written to the Department of Education demanding to know why Michael Gove over-ruled his independent advisers when selling off school playing fields.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, needs to say that sport is not the enemy of academic achievement but its vital adjunct

Labour has written to the Department of Education demanding to know why Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, over-ruled his independent advisers when selling off school playing fields.

In the letter to Chris Wormald, the senior civil servant at the Department, Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, also expressed concern at misinformation given by about the number of playing fields which had been sold off.

Last night, the Department of Education was forced to apologise after the Daily Telegraph disclosed that it had provided too low a number when asked to state how many fields had been sold since the general election in May 2010.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request last week, it said that 19 had been approved and three remained under consideration. In fact, the true figure was 30, with two outstanding.

The Telegraph also disclosed that Mr Gove had failed to consult the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel when deciding to approve sales in five cases.

In his letter, Mr Twigg asked Mr Wormald if it "would be considered good ministerial practice to consult with the expert panel?"

He went on: "I am deeply concerned by the fact that the Secretary of State has failed to disclose around a third of the playing field sell-offs that have been approved since the general election.

"In the interest of what the Prime Minister once termed, 'a new era of transparency,' I would ask that you release all submissions and correspondence regarding these disposals, including via private email accounts, so that we can understand why the Secretary of State overruled his own expert panel."

David Simmonds, the Conservative chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, also expressed concern about the sales, and called for greater transparency.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme: "We need to make sure this doesn't become a trend. Moving forward, what we need to ensure is that we have an open and transparent process, so that when there is independent advice that is followed, and we don’t have that at the moment.

"So we need to see that, particularly as many schools are taking advantage of becoming academies, being far more autonomous, and are outside of the process anyway."

Mr Simmonds said that safeguards existed to prevent the sale of playing fields, with most sold only for legitimate reasons, such as when a school was closing or being merged.

But, he went on: “With the new school term starting in a few weeks’ time, mums and dads will want to know that their local school has enough playing space, and in the vast majority of schools that will be the case.

"But the Panel was set up in 2001 to provide advice when schools, or local councils, were considering selling off part of a playing field for whatever reason.

“And there are a number of safeguards in place to make sure that the play space remains adequate whatever happens.

"The concern that we have is we want to see an open and transparent process, so that local mums and dads can see when decisions like that are taken what the rationale is, and that there is going to be enough play space so that the future generations of the Olympians and Paralympians that we’ve seen performing so well recently get the opportunities at school to make the most of the sporting chances they get.”

Mr Simmonds admitted that occasionally, schools came under pressure to sell off playing fields in order to fund much needed repairs. He said: “I think it’s for ministers to give account of why they took individual decisions. But in the case of local councils making proposals it will always be either because a school has closed, or has been merged with another school.

"Or, in the most difficult situations where schools have perhaps been waiting for funding that hasn’t been forthcoming from government for urgent repairs, feel they have no option but to bring forward a part of the land that they own and sell that to make sure that the school can continue to function.”

23 August 2012

15 August

Fears for sports legacy in plans

Resdident submitted a 738-signature petition against Barnfield College's plans to build on open space to Luton Town Hall yesterday.

The protestors object to plans to build an 80-bed care home, a new primary school and up to 39 houses on playing fields in New Bedford Road.

The college will also build new sports facilities, but residents fear these will not be as accessible.

Barnfield Estates Director John Corbett said: "We will be creating better sporting facilities for use by all. There is no intention of using the sports field to create revenue, other than to cover maintenance costs. The consultation period is still ongoing and we are committed to listening to and taking on board the opinions of our local residents.

"The improvements to the sports facilities are in responce to predetermined Sports England guidelines and will remain very much open and accessible to the public. We take very seriously the opinion of our local community and will respond with positive actions to the issues raised."

Residents say all they want is the open space left as it is.

Alison Moore-Gwyn, CEO, Fields in Trust said: "The sale of school and community playing fields and outdoor spaces jeopardises Britain's longer-term sporting success and the health and enjoyment of people of all ages. It is crucial that we take this moment to safeguard our own and our children's sporting future and wellbeing".

14 August 2012

Objectors to the proposed planning development went to Luton Town Hall to hand in their petition of over 700 signatures from members of the community opposing these plans Also present were members of the press from BBC Three Counties Radio and the Luton News

13 August 2012

BDAG Press Release

Following a local public meeting attended by over 300 Luton residents on 2 August, major concerns were raised about the Planning Application for the development of Barnfield College playing fields. Their plans are to sell off part of its playing fields for an extensive re-development including a new ‘free’ 508 pupil primary school, an 88 bed care home, a dependency unit, assorted housing and flood lit sports pitches – definitely a current hot topic, especially in light of the current Olympics and how Team GB are looking to improve performance for future athletes. Free, open access to green fields for not just organised sport but also impromptu sporting use is crucial for the health and well- being of young people. The potential loss of yet another playing field should concern all those involved in the promotion of healthier lifestyles for all age groups particularly in an area which already suffers from a lack of open green space for its local residents.

We already have support from Mark Hardie, CEO, Access Sport: “Access to sporting facilities and open spaces is crucial for young people to help them develop and to interact with their peers and their community. We need more public open spaces if young people in the UK are to benefit from the success of the Olympics and the fantastic role models who have represented their countries.”

And from Kelvin Hopkins MP, Luton North who told us: “I too am concerned about the loss of valuable green space in the town……”

The Barnfield Development Action Group has key concerns about:

  1. Significant loss of green space: The presence of playing fields on the Barnfield site (and other educational sites in Luton ) play an important role in relieving the visual impact of urban sprawl in Luton and offers formal/informal leisure and recreational opportunities for local populations which are known to be in short supply in this part of Luton.

  2. Intrusive impact of floodlighting residual recreational areas: The introduction of floodlighting onto the site would be intrusive and highly detrimental to the amenity of residents living in Old Bedford Road and in Barnfield Avenue.

  3. Adverse impact upon general traffic using the New Bedford Road ( A6 ) corridor: Although traffic along the A6 is already increasing year on year, the A6 roundabout junctions have still been coping at peak periods so far with the result that, off peak, the free flow of traffic has remained good, helped by the absence of signalised control. However, it will not take much more development to saturate the A6 corridor during peak periods.

    If this should happen then Luton Borough Council might be forced to signalise most, if not all, of the A6 junctions; this would then result in much greater delays due to increased queuing of traffic at both peak and off-peak periods.

  4. The need to maintain the free flow of traffic along the A6 and other radial routes into Luton Town Centre to keep it viable for business, shopping, commerce, higher education and leisure: We are uncertain that Council Officers who are advising LBC (most of whom do not appear to be Luton residents ) have taken on board the importance of opposing proposed car-intensive changes in land use which will increase the amount of traffic using the A6 (and/or other radial routes serving Luton). The viability of Luton Town Centre as a local and sub-regional place for business, shopping, commerce, higher education and leisure depends upon ease of access along its radial highway routes including the A6. There is likely to be a high price to be paid by Luton residents and businesses if short term greed continues to allow applicants, most of whom are not Luton residents, to proceed with car-intensive developments/changes in land use which adversely affect Luton.

  5. Adverse impact upon Public Transport and Emergency Vehicles using the A6 corridor:If traffic congestion along the A6 becomes more severe and more frequent then slow-moving or stationary queues of traffic will become commonplace, gaps in such traffic will reduce or disappear and then overtaking by emergency vehicles will become much more difficult and dangerous. The New Bedford Road/ A6 plays an important part in getting people who live in north Luton to access the railway station in central Luton. With greater A6 congestion, these people are likely to divert to the already congested Leagrave station or desert rail travel altogether in favour of their cars.

  6. Further deterioration of traffic/ environmental conditions in Barnfield Avenue: Anyone who has observed Barnfield Avenue during the weekday morning peak periods within Barnfield College’s academic terms over the last 10 years will have noted the constant stream of taxis, private hire cars and private cars that were all dropping off young adults at the Barnfield Road campus site even before the decision to centralise adult education was taken.

    The ‘a.m.’ conditions in Barnfield Avenue are, therefore already poor and are set to become very much worse if the proposed development is approved. Barnfield College is a poor and inconsiderate neighbour but there again its Principal and its other employees don’t live in Barnfield Avenue and most of them don’t even live in Luton.

    As if the above is not bad enough, the current application now proposes to introduce a new 500 pupil Primary School, a new 88 bed Care Home and assorted housing, most of these being accessed off Barnfield Avenue. Anyone with any knowledge of such facilities will be aware that both schools and care homes are car-intensive.

  7. Adverse environmental conditions: The addition of a school, care home and housing will have an impact on the area’s infrastructure - particularly water and drainage. The development will change the site which is predominantly permeable green space into an impermeable built environment, reducing the site's ability to absorb rainfall. No assessments of these issues have been made in the application, yet we are aware that Thames Water has had to spend considerable effort nearby to prevent both surface water and foul water flooding.

    If at any point, the capacity of Luton's drainage systems is exceeded, we will see potential damage to property and disruption to transport and other activities. This has occurred before, and has led to the last minute cancellation of Luton Carnival in past years.

  8. Proposed new-build ‘free’ primary school: We believe it is worth noting to the community that the proposed new school has nothing to do with Moorlands, the use of the name is purely a marketing technique to use the high profile name of Moorlands

8 August 2012

Hundreds gather to fight plans

THREE hundred angry residents packed into Bushmead Community Centre to discuss how fight Barnfield College's expansion plans on Thursday.

They are determined to stop Barnfield College's proposals to build a new primary school, an 88-bed care home, a high dependency unit and 30 new houses on the New Bedford Road playing fields.

Councillor Martin Pantling said if plans go ahead, residents will lose valuable green open space and suffer from increased traffic congestion.

He said: "In over nine years as Barnfield councillor I cannot think of any other application that has caused this level of concern across the whole area."

"Claims from the college that traffic will not increase from such a variety of new build don't stand up to any form of examination. The mix of uses proposed on the site with dependency units sitting next to primary school facilities give cause for huge concern, and the loss of amenity by closing off all the green land would have very significant impacts."

"The Council’s parks department have acknowledged that the whole area is lacking amenity space."

Other councillors attended the meeting to offer advice but there were no representatives from Barnfield College.

Blandford Avenue resident Cliff Robertson said: "There's obviously a lot of passion in this room. We need this passion to continue."

"If we don't act, that green space will go. It's a big amenity being taken away from us."

"There's a big feeling that this consultation in the development committee's eyes has already gone through, so we really have to be robust about what we do from now on in."

A committee was organised from the meeting to decide how best to proceed with residents' objections.

The application is currently out to public consultation, the deadline for which has now been extended to the end of August.

6 August 2012

School playing fields: 21 sell-offs have been approved by coalition

  • Michael Gove agreed sales despite pledge to protect pitches
  • Pressure builds on coalition to rethink sports strategy

Michael Gove, the education secretary, approved 21 out of 22 requests to sell school sports pitches since the coalition came to power two years ago. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

The education secretary, Michael Gove, has approved of the disposal of more than 20 school playing fields since the coalition came to power two years ago, despite a pledge to protect sports pitches from development.

Figures released by the Department for Education show that the sale of school sports fields continues even though ministers declared in the coalition agreement they would "seek to protect school playing fields".

The government has come under growing pressure over its investment in school sport as British athletes have shone during the Olympics. Sir Keith Mills, chief executive of London's bid to host the Olympics and now deputy chair of the organising committee, called on the government to use London 2012 as the springboard for a wholesale rethink of its sports strategy.

His remarks echoa call by Lord Moynihan , chairman of the British Olympic Association, for politicians to seize the moment to make sport a bigger priority.

Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, defended the government's sports policy – pointing to an uplift in the proportion of National Lottery money flowing to sport – but admitted that school sport provision was "patchy".

"I think at the moment school sport provision is patchy in some places, and we need to do what we can to make sure that the very best examples are spread throughout the whole country, and this is absolutely going to be a focus over the next few months and one of the things that we really want to take away from these Games," he said.

In opposition, the Tories described the sale of school playing fields as a betrayal of Labour's commitment to school sport. Figures released in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act show that Gove has approved 21 requests to sell playing fields out of 22 received since the election. One request is under consideration.

Schools where disposal has been approved include the Winchcombe school, a state primary in Newbury, Berkshire, where a 1.6-acre playing field was put on sale with outline planning permission for housing.

A new school was built on the site of playing fields at Woodhouse school in Staffordshire. Not all the playing fields approved for disposal have been lost for sporting use. Kingsbury high school, in Brent, north London, plans to lease its playing fields to a firm that runs artificial five-a-side pitches.

Some of the playing fields are being disposed of after school closures.

Just over 200 school playing fields were approved for sale over the 13 years of the previous government. Ten requests for the disposal of playing fields were granted in 2009, the last full year of Labour government, while 11 were granted consent in 2008.

An estimated 10,000 playing fields were sold off between 1979 and 1997.

Don Earley, deputy chief executive of Fields in Trust, a charity that safeguards recreational spaces, said: "It is key that we endeavour to protect all outdoor recreational facilities, and are aware of the threats to them, particularly now as the whole country enjoys our Olympic success."

A DfE spokesman said ministers would only sanction the sale of school playing fields if the sports needs of schools can continue to be met. The spokesman said: "Sale proceeds must be used to improve sports or education facilities and any new sports facilities must be sustainable for at least 10 years."

The sale of schools' open land comes on top of cuts to school sport that have hit the level of competition between schools.

Funding for school sports partnerships – groups of schools which work together to improve the quality and range of sport on offer to children – has been drastically cut by the coalition.

A series of FoI requests by Labour has revealed that 28 councils no longer have any school sports partnerships.In each partnership, a secondary school PE teacher was given two days a week to act as a co-ordinator while a teacher in each of the primary schools was paid to receive extra training in PE and sport.

The effect of the cuts has been to reduce the time and resources available to organise competitive sport – despite the fact that ministers regard boosting competition as the cornerstone of their sports policy.

5 August 2012

Concerns raised over plans to build on college's fields

Around 300 residents gathered at Bushmead Community Centre to demonstrate their opposition to Barnfield College’s proposals to build on the playing field.

Under the plans, Barnfield College would construct a replacement college building and move the Barnfield Moorlands Free School to the site on Old Bedford Road.

Thirty-nine new homes, an 88-bed car home and new sports facilities would also be built.

Cliff Robertson, who chaired the discussion on Thursday evening said: “Noone here has a problem with the college making improvements to its own buildings - it’s the construction on the green space that we object to.

“We need to make sure each and every one of us makes our concerns heard.

“If the proposals get ahead it’ll be too late, we’ll have lost that land forever.” Residents voiced their concerns about a dramatic increase in congestion, light pollution from the proposed floodlit pitch and the loss of a community play area.

Councillors Martin Pantling, Rachel Hopkins and Mike Garrett also attended the meeting to share their support with the residents and advise them on the best way of making their objections heard.

Liberal Democrat councillor, Martin Pantling said: “In this area we’ve got Lib Dem, Labour and Conservative councillors.

My hope is that we can put aside political differences and support all of the residents in their fight to protect this land.

“I oppose these plans and particularly the proposals to build on green land instead of a brownfield site.”

Alan Euinton, Interim Principal at Barnfield College, said: “We are continuously investing in our estate for the benefit of our students as well as responding to a demand for more primary school places and homes in the area.

“The proposed development will bring better, more modern and efficient facilities to both those who study and work at the College as well as the local community.

“The improvements to the sports facilities are in response to pre-determined Sport England guidelines and will remain very much open and accessible to the public.

“We intend to work in partnership with the care home to provide much needed training and experience for students across all areas, as well as this facility providing additional local jobs.

“Our extensive on site parking facilities and planned drop off points will ensure there are no parking implications to local residents.

“We are still in a consultation period and committed to listening to and taking on board the opinions of our local residents.”

The application is currently out to public consultation and a decision is expected by the end of September.

2 August 2012

Barnfield College development in Luton receives objections

A new Barnfield College has been proposed in Luton along with houses and community facilities

Objections have been raised towards new college and school buildings, a care home and housing on a Luton community playing field.

Barnfield College has proposed the development on its existing campus.

Luton borough councillor Martin Pantling and local residents said valuable open space would be lost and traffic problems could worsen.

Barnfield College said the "better, more modern and efficient facilities" would benefit the whole community.

Under the plans, Barnfield College would build a replacement college building and move the Barnfield Moorlands Free School to the site on Old Bedford Road.

Thirty-nine new homes would also be built along with an 88-bed care home and new sports facilities.

Mr Pantling, Liberal Democrat councillor for Barnfield, said he was opposed to green space being built on instead of brownfield sites and said the plans would create "dreadful traffic problems"

'Modern facilities'

Resident Rubina Zaidi said: "If it goes ahead this wonderful open green space which has been enjoyed by local residents and others for years will be enclosed by a concrete wall of housing, flats, a large care home, an independency unit and a 500-pupil primary school - none of which are needed here and none of which will benefit the community."

Alan Euinton, interim principal at Barnfield College, said: "We are continuously investing in our estate for the benefit of our students as well as responding to a demand for more primary school places and homes in the area.

"The proposed development will bring better, more modern and efficient facilities to both those who work and study at the college as well as the local community."

He added the "improved" sports facilities would be open to the public, the care home would provide training for students and extensive parking space would minimise problems for residents.

The application is currently out to public consultation and a decision is expected by the end of September.

25 March 2012

Academy schools federation hopes to run college for profit

A federation that runs a chain of academy schools plans to become the first in the country to run a state further education college as a profit-making business. The change – which is to be put before the college's governing board at Easter – would mean surplus cash from the college could be used to pay a dividend to shareholders.

The Barnfield Federation, which runs four schools in Luton, wants to be the first academy backer to take advantage of a provision in the Education Act 2011 that allows further education colleges to run on a for-profit basis. Academy schools are not at the moment run for profit. But the federation is exploring doing so in future if the law is changed to allow it.

Barnfield's chief executive, Pete Birkett, is looking at creating a new business model for schools by establishing a private company that would raise funds from private equity and pay dividends to shareholders.

Public funds from the Department for Education would be paid into a company limited by guarantee, which does not have shareholders.

As a first step, Birkett is proposing to set up this model for the Barnfield further education (FE) college, which sponsors four schools in Luton. Shareholders would receive a portion of the college's financial surplus.

Birkett said: "As legislation changes, we could possibly bring in the academies. I can't do that until there is permission to do that.

"If we can make it successful in the FE sector, there's no reason we can't make it successful in the schools."

The proposed model marks the latest step in the privatisation of public services under the coalition, after the Guardian disclosed recently that two police authorities had invited private security firms to bid for services including criminal investigations.

Birkett said: "We're ready to step up a level – modernise public service thinking and delivery.

"We'll be able to attract third-party investment in our buildings and infrastructure, which is what we need.

"I think there'll be opportunities to review existing terms and conditions and say, are they fit for purpose, for the 21st century?

"So, traditionally we've had three-term years – do we want to continue with three terms a year? Is the time now right to make changes that will deliver improved outcomes in a more efficient way?"

Barnfield is also proposing to use the new model to provide incentives to staff through share ownership.

Birkett said he had contacted a private equity group with an interest in education to discuss the proposals. "The response to that, yes, they believed there'd be a lot of interest from private investors."

Regulatory changes in the Education Act which have gone largely unnoticed allow FE colleges to be privatised.

The new model gave greater flexibility over how to spend surplus cash, Birkett argued. "Why do we want to sit on lots of reserves when we could be spending them throughout the organisation? There are restrictions on what we can use reserves for – we can't give staff a pay award. But in a company you decide."

Birkett argued that running a school as a business created a strong incentive to raise standards and attract more pupils.

"If you've got a school that has capacity for 1,000 students, and it's only got 500 because it's failing, its income is only half what it should be. If you can create good schools, you're going to be filling to capacity and you can invest. And if we can raise equity through other means, then that's got to be good, that's what we're trying to do."

The Conservative thinktank Policy Exchange has argued in a recent report that private companies should be allowed to set up and run schools under a social enterprise model that would give employees a share of ownership and re-invest a portion of any profit back into the school.

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, ruled out profit-making in state schools in a speech last year. However, the education secretary, Michael Gove, a former chairman of Policy Exchange, has approved a free school in Suffolk that will outsource management to a commercial company in a 10-year contract worth £21m.

Birkett said he expected the government to relax barriers to profit-making in future. At present, academy schools are run independently but are still classed as public sector bodies. Their surpluses cannot go to shareholders.

Birkett said: "I see that happening in the near future. If you look at fee-paying independent schools most of them are successful, so why couldn't that happen in the public sector? Why couldn't we use the fee-paying school approach to drive standards?"

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-leaning thinktank, there is only "weak" evidence to support the claim that commercial providers will raise standards in schools more rapidly than the existing mix.

• This article was amended on 27 March 2012. The original said that the Barnfield Federation runs four schools in Luton, but also said on second mention that they sponsor three schools. This has been corrected.