Our letter to cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood

Global Justice Now will be protesting at the Pearsons AGM in London on Friday 24 April 2015. Here the letter from director Nick Dearden to cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to question the role of Sir Michael Barber at DfID. 

Read our report Profiting from poverty, again: DfID’s support for privatising education and health

22 April 2015

Dear Cabinet Secretary,
I write to raise concerns about a potential conflict of interest in the Department for International Development (DFID).

Sir Michael Barber is DFID's Chief Education Representative in Pakistan, where the department is promoting private provision of education. At the same time, Sir Michael is Chief Education Advisor at educational business Pearson.

DFID has significant contracts with Pearson in the provision of private education in several countries. In particular, under the Girls’ Education Challenge, DFID is funding a project in Tanzania and Zimbabwe involving a partnership with Pearson. The project aims to enable 60,000 girls in Zimbabwe and Tanzania to enrol in secondary school and ‘harnesses Pearson’s wealth of expertise in providing innovative learning and training materials’.  Pearson’s Affordable Learning Fund invests in several private education providers around the world including Bridge International Academies and Omega Schools, both of which are also supported by DFID. 

Meanwhile, Pearson is seeking new markets in developing countries. Launched with a £15 million investment in 2012, and chaired by Sir Michael, Pearson’s Affordable Learning Fund ‘makes minority equity investments in for-profit companies to meet a growing demand for affordable education services across the developing world’.  Although the Affordable Learning Fund does not currently have investments in Pakistan, it has profiled 11 countries –  including Pakistan – where it states that ‘low cost private schools offer quality education solutions’.

We understand that Sir Michael does not work in a paid capacity for DFID, and that he receives a number of days leave every year from Pearson to fulfil his duties at DFID. We are given to believe that Sir Michael has an agreement at DFID that his role there should not benefit Pearson. However, it remains the case that Pearson does benefit from DFID contracts in the more general area on which Sir Michael works, namely promoting an increasing role for private education providers across the world.

DFID's flagship education project in Pakistan, launched in 2011, is the Punjab Road Map, to which DFID is providing £350 million between 2012/13 and 2017/18.  The project aims among other things at expanding low cost private schooling, and is headed by Barber. DFID has been quoted in the media as saying that Barber and his team in Pakistan are doing vital work in helping to ‘transform’ its education system. Surely there is a good chance that this transformation would be helpful to Pearson if the company decided to seek DFID contracts in this area in the future?  

Thank you for your attention and I very much look forward to your reply.

Yours faithfully,

Nick Dearden

Director, Global Justice Now