Education Secretary Michael Gove is allowing England's state school system to be destroyed by "corporate greed" through his controversial free schools and academies programme, teachers claimed yesterday.
Delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Manchester yesterday passed an emergency motion voicing concern over the "financial mismanagement" of free schools and academies.
One of the most blatant examples was of Mr Gove's plan to spend £45 million setting up a free sixth-form college in Westminster at a time when existing state school sixth-forms were suffering cuts of up to 40 per cent, as revealed by The Independent last month, they said.
Mark Baker, a senior vice-president of ATL, said: "Our world-class education system... is being destroyed through corporate greed.
"The free school mantra of allowing parents the opportunity to set up locally run neighbourhood schools is a lie. Most are being established and run by academy chains."
They had spent £77 million on consultancy fees, which could otherwise have been been used for children's education. Three prominent academy chains - Harris, Ark and the David Ross Foundation - had links to the Conservative Party through donors.
"We have a culture of cronyism now so well ingrained we take it for granted," he added.
"Our schools and colleges are proving to be a lucrative host to those who see who seek to bleed them dry. The number of private companies queuing up to get in on the act has trebled since 2011.
"Time and time again we are met with yet another scandal: whether arising from blind dogma, profiteering or just plain corruption."
These included spending £45 million on the Westminster free school and £21 million on the Breckland free school, despite education standards watchdog Ofsted warning it was "inadequate and ineffective", and police investigations and arrests over allegations of fraud at Kings Science Academy in Bradford and Glendene Academy in Durham.
Later Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt told the conference that his party would scrap the free schools programme.
He said existing free schools and those in the pipeline would be allowed to remain open, although he expressed fears that Mr Gove would rush through new applications in the run-up to the General Election next year.
He said that the present programme was based on "a political programme of pile them high and get them out of the trap. It doesn't much matter about who's setting them up".
"The fear is that as the year progresses and the imminent prospect of defeat becomes a certainty [for the Conservatives] they will throw in as many as possible," he added. The danger was that there would be more free school failures like the Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, which had been forced to close.
A spokesman for Ark said: "As a charitable organisation with no political affiliation, we're lucky to have support from a range of individuals and institutions. Some are politically affiliated, some are not and we have supporters from all the major parties."
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "No individual or organisation with an ongoing relationship to an academy or free school can make a profit."
He added that the Westminster free school, sponsored by the Harris Federation and leading independent school Westminster, "will give hundreds of children from low-income families across London the kind of top quality sixth-form education previously reserved for the better off."
On Breckland, he added: "As with any school found to be inadequate we now expect the trust [running it] to make rapid improvements and we will not fail to take tough action if they fail to do so."