More free schools on the cards in place of 'indefensible' status quo

The country's failing primary schools, 377 in all, will become sponsored academies in the next year

Education Secretary Michael Gove yesterday called for a massive expansion of the Government's free schools and academies programme, claiming the present education system was not "morally defensible".

As a result, every failing primary school and those already given "notice to improve" by inspectors – 377 in all – will become sponsored academies in the next year. In addition, ministers will target areas with the highest concentration of under-performing schools, both secondary and primary, in a drive to create more sponsored academies.

"I want to extend our academies programme to tackle the entrenched culture of under-achievement in parts of the country [where] children are being failed," he told a conference organised by The Spectator magazine. "There are parts of the country where children are being let down, year after year, and where the alternative options available to parents are poor or non-existent. It would be morally reprehensible to allow this situation to continue any longer and we will not allow it."

Mr Gove also appeared to soften his line towards exam reform in response to questions at the conference. He said he wanted every child to have the opportunity to take the new O-level style exam he is proposing to introduce to make it harder for pupils to pass at GCSE level.

He insisted, too, that he had not provoked a rift with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg over the proposals. Mr Clegg had threatened to veto them if they led to the creation of a "two-tier" system, with the return of a CSE exam for less intelligent pupils running alongside the tougher O-levels. Mr Gove also raised the prospect of bringing A-level exams forward, giving universities more opportunity to accept applicants after they receive their results.

This had earlier been ruled out by ministers at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills after an inquiry by UCAS, the universities and colleges admissions service, found universities were reluctant to change.

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