Ontario Teachers to acquire UK education provider

TORONTO (Reuters) - One of Canada’s largest pension administrators, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, has agreed to buy a leading British provider of special needs education, for an undisclosed sum.

The private equity arm of Teachers, a pension plan with over C$87 billion ($84 billion) in net assets, agreed to buy Acorn Care and Education Ltd from British mid-market private equity firm Phoenix Equity Partners, the UK firm said in a statement.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but a report in Britain’s Financial Times pegged its value at about $245 million. Teachers could not be reached for immediate comment.

The Canadian private equity industry, a global leader, is homing in on acquisition opportunities at home and abroad in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Experts say dealmaking in the private equity space will likely grow in 2010 as the spread between bid and asking prices narrows and targets come up for sale, with deep-pocketed pension funds like Teachers leading the way.

Acorn, which provides facilities for children with special needs, operates 10 schools across England and has grown through acquisition from just two schools in 2005.

It put itself up for sale in late 2009.

Teachers invests and administers the pensions of 284,000 active and retired teachers in Ontario and is one of Canada’s largest investors.

The fund’s private equity arm, which manages around C$10 billion and owns companies across the globe, has been actively seeking growth.

Its director, Erol Uzumeri, has in the past described the current investment climate as “the best investment opportunity of my lifetime.”

Teachers announced plans in early January to buy AIG Inc’s Canadian mortgage insurance business, with assets of C$274 million.

Reporting by Euan Rocha; additional reporting by Pav Jordan; editing by Rob Wilson