Blow for academies policy as only 153 schools apply

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:49

Fewer than one in 12 of the schools which registered an interest in becoming academies have gone ahead with the plan.

Only 153 have made an application to switch status, despite a claim in the House of Commons by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, that more than 1,100 had applied.

A government website showed that 1,900 had expressed an interest in becoming academies.

In reality, even fewer than 153 are likely to be eligible at the beginning of the new school year in September – the date given by Mr Gove for the start of a "rocket boost" for the academies programme.

Schools that become academies have control of their own budget and have freedom from the national curriculum.

Ministers rushed legislation through the Commons earlier this week to allow schools a change of status from September. Earlier, Mr Gove told MPs that "more than 1,100 schools have applied for academy freedoms".

But it has since emerged that if a school wanted to browse the website to find out more about academy status it had to supply its name and address – an action which could easily be deemed as expressing an interest.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "Interest in becoming an academy seems to be rather a damp squib. Our education system is too important to be subject to acting at haste but repenting at leisure."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: "We were assured by the Secretary of State for Education, during the Queen's Speech debate on 2 June, that 'more than 1,100 schools have applied for academy freedoms'.

"The publication of this latest list means 957 of those schools decided not to seek academy status. One has to question why the Secretary of State felt the need to exaggerate and mislead the public in this way."

Labour's education spokesman, Ed Balls, added: "Michael Gove railroaded the Academies Bill through Parliament in a way that's only normally done for emergencies like anti-terrorism legislation. He said this was because hundreds of schools wanted to become academies."

Mr Balls added that the saga was reminiscent of "the chaotic announcement on school buildings" where ministers rushed out an error-strewn list of the schools whose building programmes were being cut.

Mr Gove, speaking at the Commons Education Select Committee on Wednesday, said he expected the momentum of the academies programme to build over the coming months. Many had not yet concluded the necessary negotiations to make the switch in September.

Of the 153 schools on the list which have registered an application, 107 are secondary schools and 44 primary schools. Two are all-through schools for five to 19-year-olds.

Within a few weeks of coming into office, Mr Gove had written to the headteacher of every primary, secondary and special school asking them to consider applying for academy status.

Under the coalition Government's new legislation, every school ranked "outstanding" by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, will automatically be able to transfer to academy status.

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