Academy status will become the norm for state secondary schools, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, forecast yesterday.
Mr Gove revealed he had written to every state school head in England – primary, secondary and special – urging them to consider putting in a bid for academy status.
If they take up his offer, it would bring to an end 108 years of local authorities running the vast majority of state schools. Mr Gove predicted that secondary schools would initially be more interested in taking up the offer than primaries. "I anticipate that's likely to be the case [for academy status to be the norm for secondary schools]," he added. "However, I'm not putting a time limit on it. It's up to the schools to decide."
All schools ranked as "outstanding" by the education standards watchdog, Ofsted – 600 secondary schools and 2,300 primaries – will be fast-tracked to academy status so they can take up the offer from September. Any failing schools will be taken over by a new provider and turned into an academy if they have not pulled their socks up within a year.
In the case of schools ranked "good" or "satisfactory" by Ofsted, a named civil servant will be assigned after they put in their bid. They will have a remit to decide whether the school can be granted the new status or be put in touch with a neighbouring outstanding school with which they could go into partnership.
Mr Gove said academy status would give schools freedom from local authority control, the ability to set their own pay and conditions and freedom from following the national curriculum. They will also keep the 10 per cent of funding retained by local authorities to deliver services and will be able to spend it as they wish.
However, he said it was an insult to suggest that teachers would immediately resort to teaching "wild, woolly and wacky things". The academies would still be inspected by Ofsted.
Defending the decision to allow academies freedom over pay, he said "you couldn't put a price" on what good headteachers could achieve.
Labour – under Ed Balls as Schools Secretary – had restricted the freedom of academies, he said, and any academy set up while these restrictions were in place could apply to have them lifted. The restrictions included a duty to offer all their pupils the opportunity to study for all 14 of the previous government's flagship diplomas. This would be lifted.
A Bill to allow more schools to become academies became the first by the Government to be introduced in the Commons yesterday.
Earlier in the day, Mr Gove visited Cuckoo Hill primary school in Edmonton, north-east London, one of the first primary schools to express an interest in pursuing academy status. Its head, Patricia Sowter, arrived at the school 10 years ago when it was failing. Every pupil now reached the required standard in maths and English. She said she would like academy status so she could "continue to improve".