Schools invited to become academies

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Greater freedom and independence have been promised to primary and secondary schools by Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, who has invited all schools to apply to become academies.

Writing to schools, he announced that the Government will open up the Academies programme to all schools including, for the first time, primary schools and special schools. He also pledged to make the process of becoming an academy quicker and less bureaucratic, removing local authority powers to block schools that want to become academies.

Schools that are rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted will be fast tracked through the process.

Subject to Parliamentary approval of the Academies Bill, introduced in the House of Lords, the first tranche of these academies will open in September 2010 and schools that become academies will enjoy:

  • freedom from local authority control
  • the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff
  • freedom from following the National Curriculum
  • greater control of their budget
  • greater opportunities for formal collaboration with other public and private organisations
  • freedom to change the length of terms and school days
  • freedom to spend the money the local authority currently spends on their behalf.

These freedoms will be in addition to system-wide reductions in bureaucracy due to be announced shortly. This will shift power from central and local government back to heads and schools.

Michael Gove said: "The Government is genuinely committed to giving schools greater freedoms. We trust teachers and headteachers to run their schools. We think headteachers know how to run their schools better than bureaucrats or politicians.

"Many school leaders have already shown a keen interest in gaining academy freedoms. They want to use those powers to increase standards for all children and close the gap between the richest and the poorest.

"I am inviting all schools to register their interest. It is right that they should be able to enjoy academy freedoms and I hope many will take up this offer."

Schools who wish to apply for academy status can now register their interest online and will receive further guidance on how the process works.

The announcement was broadly welcomed by headteachers, academy sponsors and national education bodies.

Prior Park College Headteacher, James Murphy O’Connor, a critic of the initiative, said: "What seems like a good idea on the surface has many uncertainties. Firstly, it’s unclear where the budget is coming from to support it and secondly, with so little evidence of this scheme being a success, the Government is rather going out on a limb.

“The Government has compared this to the charter scheme in the US which hasn’t been a smooth-running process. As an example, at the end of last year, over 200 teachers were made redundant from a non-charter school in Washington because it could not compete against the charter schools.

“The UK’s initiative started off as a form of support for schools which were under-performing; however the high-achieving schools are now being cherry-picked for academy status."

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