All top state schools to be offered instant academy status

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of the country's top- performing state schools will be able to join the academies programme from September, giving them more control over how they are run.

A "short, sharp" Bill will allow all schools regarded as "outstanding" by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, the automatic right to academy status.

In all, 600 secondary schools and, for the first time, up to 2,000 primaries will be in line to benefit from the programme. One that has already expressed an interest is Oldfield School in Bath, which took the decision within 24 hours of David Cameron becoming Prime Minister.

The Bill, expected to be published within days of the Queen's Speech tomorrow, is seen by the Education Secretary Michael Gove as a "statement of intent" by the Government. During the election campaign, he said he wanted to give the academies programme a "rocket boost".

Under the deal, the schools will be given freedom from local authority control and get their money directly from Whitehall and will be free to spend it how they wish. Academy status will automatically be granted to any "outstanding" school that wants it without the need to find sponsorship as with existing academies.

The Bill is seen as a curtain-raiser to the coalition Government's wider education reforms which would enable parents' groups, teachers, voluntary and faith groups to set up their Swedish-style independent "free" schools. The Liberal Democrats have backed the idea, although they have wrung the concession that any freedoms offered to the new wave of schools from the national curriculum should be offered to existing state schools.

The plans are being opposed by teachers' leaders, with the National Union of Teachers and National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers warning of possible strike action as a result of the drive to create more academies. Both are worried that the pay and conditions of their members could be affected as a result of the change in their control.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, claimed it was "irresponsible" of the Government to move so quickly to a change in status for schools. "I think it is really a question of more haste, less speed," she said. Teachers would be worried about school admissions arrangements, who was to provide special educational needs and possible changes to their pay and conditions, she added.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he expected a "substantial number" of secondary schools would opt for academy status, not only because of the greater freedoms it gave them but because it could secure them extra funding at a time of tight public spending.

The academies programme was introduced by Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister, after the 2001 election.

Further reforms to be included in a later Education Bill could also include more disciplinary powers for schools, with the removal of the right of appeal by pupils against exclusions and the right of a teacher to anonymity in the case of an allegation of abuse against them by a pupil until the case went to court.

State schools would also be given the green light for state funding to offer their pupils a wider range of examinations, including the iGCSE, devised along the lines of the traditional O-level with no coursework. Scores of independent schools have already ditched GCSEs in subjects like maths and science because they believe they do not stretch their pupils enough.

The Liberal Democrats' big election idea of giving schools a "pupil premium" – extra cash support – for every pupil from a disadvantaged background they take in has also won backing from the coalition Government.

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