Redbridge education business plan scrapped

Plans to convert Redbridge Council’s education department into a for-profit business have been abruptly dropped.

The council’s plan, launched in 2019, involved setting up an arms-length business known as Six Five Education to provide services to local schools and academies, as well as neighbouring councils.

Redbridge hoped that the new company would financially benefit the borough by “trading on the borough’s reputation” for good schools.

A website was created, describing Six Five Education as a “one-stop-shop for training, services and resources”, before the plans were put on hold due to the pandemic.

This week, a report to the council’s business oversight committee, known as the Shareholder Reference Group, said the company is “no longer required”.

Director of education Colin Stewart said there would have been a “business need” for the company if the government’s now-abandoned plans to make all schools academies by 2030 had gone ahead.

He said there are now “greater risks” for the council in proceeding, particularly the cost of “support services” for the company.

Instead, the council is drawing up an “internal trading plan” for education services.

Late last year, Stewart claimed there was a “fair level” of support from the 560 council staff who would have been transferred to Six Five Education.

Mr Stewart and former Redbridge employee William Clapp both helped set up a similar arms-length education company for Sutton Council called Cognus.

Cognus has been criticised by parents of children with special needs, who in 2020 complained to Ofsted inspectors of a “flawed” service and lack of face-to-face sessions.

In recent years, Redbridge Council has set up other trading companies, including housebuilder Redbridge Living and waste collection service Redbridge Civic Services.

Redbridge Living ceased operating in 2021 without building any homes and Redbridge Civic Services recently reported a loss of £268,000 in 2021/22.

A third company, Roding Homes, is planned to house thousands of people living at risk of homelessness in the borough.

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter