Commons gives green light to academies bill

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The Independent Online

MPs backed the Government's flagship Academies Bill which was rushed through Parliament in time for the start of the summer recess.

The Bill was passed by 317 votes to 225, Government majority 92, despite accusations it would lead to a "two-tier" education system and would damage comprehensive schooling.

It completed its Commons passage last night in an unusually short period and will allow for a radical overhaul of the school system in England.

The legislation aims to create the first of a new wave of academy schools, free from local authority control, to be in place in September.

It also paves the way for parents, charities and other organisations to set up controversial Swedish-style "free schools".

Earlier during the Bill's passage, six Lib Dem MPs rebelled against the coalition Government in backing a call by John Pugh (Southport), a former teacher, to allow parents to be balloted if a school governor objected it to becoming an academy.

The other Lib Dems who supported the amendment were Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and Poole N), Andrew George (St Ives), Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South), John Leech (Manchester Withington) and David Ward (Bradford E).

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the Bill would "grant greater autonomy to individual schools, give more freedom to teachers and inject a new level of dynamism into a programme that has been proven to raise standards for all children".

He told MPs: "This Bill is not about a full-scale assault on comprehensive education...we are committed to comprehensive education and this Bill will strengthen comprehensive education.

"Nor is this Bill about scrapping the admissions code...all academies will be bound by the admissions code through the model funding agreement.

"Nor is this Bill about creating a two-tier educational system. Two-tiers is what we have today between the best performing state schools and the worst.

"This Bill offers all schools the opportunity to acquire the kind of professional freedoms that have proved so successful, not only in the independent sector, but also in the city technology colleges and in the academies."

But shadow education secretary Ed Balls expressed fears the changes would lead to "social apartheid" in education and described them as "the most profoundly unfair piece of social engineering in this generation.

"This Bill will create an unfair and two-tier education system in this country, with gross unfairness in funding, standards not rising but falling, fairness and social cohesion to be undermined," he told MPs.

"The flawed and rushed provisions in this Bill risk ripping apart the community-based comprehensive education system we have built over decades in this country.

"It's our fear that this make things worse for our schools, for our children's future and also the cohesion of our communities - and yet this Bill has been railroaded through."