Schools are promised an academies 'revolution'

By Angela Harrison
Education correspondent, BBC News


Education Secretary Michael Gove has set out his vision for a new era for schools in England.

Mr Gove said all schools would be given the opportunity to break away from local authority control and become academies.

Academies are state-funded schools which have a high degree of autonomy.

Mr Gove said the changes and new freedoms would drive up standards for all schools, with supporters hailing them as a "revolution" in schools.

Critics have warned that the changes risk fragmenting state education, with the most disadvantaged children losing out, but the new coalition insists the system will help all pupils.

Schools rated as outstanding by inspectors could be fast-tracked into academy status for the autumn.

All schools in England - including primaries - will eventually be able to opt to become academies.

The proposals could mean thousands of schools leaving local authority control.

Mr Gove said: "What I'd like to do is to ensure some of the radicalism that we used to have in education policy returns.

"It's about saying to heads and boards of governors and teachers - 'it's up to you'.

"I don't want to coerce anyone into a position with which they're unhappy. I want to allow schools to take up this offer."

Mr Gove gave a news conference with key supporters of the policy on Thursday.

There, Dan Moynihan from the Harris Federation, which runs seven academies, said the measure would change the face of education in England.

"It's the beginning of an education revolution that has the ability to transform the lives of children," he said.

When schools become academies, they are given more control over the pay and conditions of staff and over what they teach.

They have to follow the admissions code, which governs how children get school places, but are able to select about 10% of their pupils on aptitude if they wish to, but not on ability.

They will be given extra money, the government says.

This would be about 10% or so - money which was previously given to local authorities to provide services shared among local schools.

Mr Moynihan said getting academy status meant schools could be more flexible and therefore more able to meet the needs of all their pupils.

He said the change would free schools from having to "implement endless local authority initiatiatives".

Of the seven academies in his foundation, four had been judged outstanding, with a fifth on track to do the same.

And teachers who worked in academies liked the pay and conditions, he said.

To attract good teachers, no academy would want to offer less than nationally-agreed rates, he said.

The plans have been attacked by the former education secretary Ed Balls, who said they would "hugely devalue the academies' name".

"It will also mean the resource and the power will be handed over, away from the local authority to the best-performing schools which will suck the best teachers and the extra money," he said.

"The losers from the complete free-for-all he is proposing will be the majority of schools, those children and parents who deserve a better deal but will see their budgets cut.

"I think it will be very unfair and we will end up with a two-tier education system, the opposite of what the academies programme was about."

The NASUWT teachers' union claims the policy will "disenfranchise democratically-elected local councils".

Outstanding schools

The Academies Bill, presented to Parliament later on Thursday, will pave the way for schools which are judged to be outstanding to switch quickly to academy status.

About one in five secondary schools are currently rated as outstanding.

All other state schools will also be invited to apply to become academies.

The bill and a White Paper expected in July will also mean that state-funded academies could be set up by parents or other groups without needing to consult the local authority, under the "free school" policy.

New academies set up under the proposed legislation would be able to be managed by outside companies.

The existing academy programme, which had plans for up to 400 schools, had been focused on improving standards in the most challenging areas.

Critics of the academies and free schools policies warn that the weakening of the role of local authorities in providing education will mean that some children - especially the most disadvantaged - will lose out.

Mr Gove says that another coalition policy - that of the "pupil premium" will mean that does not happen.

Under this policy, extra money will "follow" disadvantaged children to whichever school they go to.

Mr Gove said: "There is a commitment from both parties to ensure that under-privileged children in disadvantaged circumstances are at the forefront of our mind.

"And that is why we will have a pupil premium - a sum of money from outside the existing schools budget - which will come on top of what we currently spend on schools, in order to help children in disadvantaged circumstances."

Another way in which struggling schools would be helped by the new sysytem, he said, was that schools applying to become academies would be expected to enter into partnerships with others which were performing less well.

And schools which had been in "special measures" for more than a year without showing improvement would themselves be turned into academies, by being linked with a trust or education provider.

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