Gove bids for massive expansion in Academies

By Peter Wozniak

The offer of academy status will be extended to all schools in England, Michael Gove will announce today.

Previously, only schools rated outstanding by Ofsted were eligible for the status which removes schools from local authority control.

Under the education secretary’s proposals, all schools, primary and secondary, can take it up – but only in conjunction with a nearby ‘outstanding’ school.

Mr Gove said: “We know that the best way of improving schools is by getting the professionals, who have already done a brilliant job, to spread their wings.

“That is why we are now allowing more schools to benefit by enabling all schools to apply for academy status, if they are teamed with a high-performing school.”

‘Good’ schools with outstanding features will also be able to automatically apply to become academies.

The move comes as part of Mr Gove’s bid to greatly expand the academies programme begun under Labour. So far, just 224 schools have taken up the government’s invitation.

The government claims these represent the first step to a wholesale change in the way schools are run, but critics suggest the small numbers demonstrate unpopularity of the proposals among headteachers.

A Department of Education spokesman insisted the rate of take-up was “record progress”.

“Since the act passed in July this year, more than 220 schools have applied and 80 have already opened,” they said.

“It took five years for 15 city technology colleges to open and four years for the first 27 academies.”

The announcement follows Mr Gove’s implication that he may force the issue by warning councils he could require struggling schools to take up academy status in a bid to accelerate the process.

Teachers’ unions bitterly oppose the reforms. They claim that schools likely to take up academy status are those in better-off areas of the country, potentially widening the gap between school performance rather than closing it.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said the academies programme was in “total disarray”.

She claimed the changes would only result in greater bureaucracy and form-filling and added: “The government needs to acknowledge that what was a bad idea to start with is degenerating into farce and needs to end.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, also piled scorn on Mr Gove’s efforts.

He said: “There is nothing new in this announcement. Since the Academies Act went through parliament all schools have been eligible to apply.

“However, no-one has been killed in a rush for schools to convert.

“Only a handful of schools became academies. Most of them cited their reason for doing so as more funding.”

He added that schools will prefer to retain links with local authorities as a matter of “better the devil you know” rather than putting themselves “at the mercy of a remote, national, democratically unaccountable funding quango”.