700 groups sign up to run new 'free' schools

Parents would be able to set up schools in homes or local empty office blocks under plans unveiled by the Government yesterday.

Education Secretary Michael Gove set out his stall for establishing a network of Swedish-style "free" schools around the country, announcing a relaxation of the planning laws and building regulations to allow residential and commercial properties to be turned into schools.

Town planners will also be told there should be a normal assumption that school applications are given the green light.

So far just over 700 groups have expressed an interest in setting up a school. Since yesterday, parents, teachers and charities have been able to state their intentions by filling in an online application form.

Applicants have to spell out their reasons for wanting to set up a school in 200 words and show they are capable of teaching children.

The Government has made it clear that any proposals advocating "violence, intolerance, hatred or whose ideology runs counter to the UK's democratic values" would be turned down.