'Outstanding' schools set for academy fast-track

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Thousands of schools are set to be fast-tracked to become academies under plans announced in the Queen's Speech today.

The coalition Government's first education reform is a short, sharp Academies Bill - which will allow schools to opt out of local authority control.

The widely expected Bill will mean state schools apply to the Education Secretary for academy status - taking the power out of the hands of councils.

And as expected, the Bill allows for schools rated as "outstanding" by Ofsted - around 600 secondaries and about 2,000 primaries - to be "pre-approved", effectively meaning their applications are fast-tracked.

It means that outstanding schools who apply immediately could be re-opened as academies this September.

The Bill says: "We expect standards across the education sector to rise through the creation of more academies. We would expect a significant number to open in September and for the number to grow each year."

Schools that receive academy status will receive their funding directly.

One union leader derided the plans as "irresponsible" at the weekend.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: "I think this is really a question of more haste less speed. An expansion of the academies programme on this scale and bringing primary schools in begs more questions than answers."

She added: "The law of unintended consequences says if you do the bright banner headline but don't think it through, it ends up in a mess."

Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the governing bodies of a "substantial number" of secondaries are likely to vote in favour of fast-track academy status, some to win greater freedoms, but more to take advantage of additional funding as a cushion in a tough financial climate.

Academies - semi-independent state schools - were first introduced under former prime minister Tony Blair and were a flagship measure of the last Labour government.

There are around 200 academies already open, and the previous Labour government had planned to double this to 400. Primary schools were not included in the plans.

Academies were originally introduced to tackle under-performance, with many established in disadvantaged areas.

But with the new reforms opening up the opportunity of academy freedoms to all schools, it potentially means that many top-performing schools, which are often in richer neighbourhoods, could opt out of local authority control.

The Academies Bill paves the way for "free schools" - a key plank of the Tories plans for education reform.

It would see parents, teachers, charities, trusts and voluntary groups given state funding to set up and operate schools on the Swedish model, which would be taxpayer-funded and non-fee-paying but independent from state control.

The Tories held on to these plans in the coalition agreement with the Lib Dems.

More detail on these proposals, which will require further legislation are expected later this year.