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Michael Gove to hire school 'chancellors' to scrutinise academies and free schools

Critics of Michael Gove’s free school and academy movement have seized on plans to introduce local oversight of the schools as an admission that his policy is in “complete disarray”. 

It is understood the education secretary is planning to bring in a raft of high-powered chancellors who will supervise free schools and academies. 

According to a Department for Education document, seen by the Guardian, officials intend to split the country into eight regions, with each one supervised by a Headteacher Board and led by a chancellor.

The new system borrows from the model used in the US, where chancellors are appointed by a number of city mayors and handed far-reaching powers over the running of schools in their jurisdictions.

The news comes as several of Mr Gove’s free schools have been beset by a rash of problems, such as the Al-Madinah Free School in Derby, which has been threatened with closure by ministers and was described by Ofsted as being “in chaos”.

Another free school, the King Science Academy in Bradford, is currently being investigated by police after it admitted it had fabricated invoices for thousands of pounds of public money.   

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said it was “obvious” when this government started on its course of deregulating schools that local oversight would be needed, and she suggested Mr Gove’s move was more to do with publicity than supervision.

“Michael Gove doesn’t believe in management he believes the system can regulate itself, the only reason he has brought this in is because of bad publicity and he doesn’t like that,” Dr Bousted said.

“I suspect he has been under a lot of pressure from Downing Street to do something about the free school fiasco that has taken place and he knows it looks bad on him. He wants to create some sort of buffer between him and the bad news coming from his free schools and academies.”

Since coming to power in 2010, more than 3,400 schools have taken on academy and free school status.   

One of the main criticisms of Mr Gove’s academy and free school programme was that it brought thousands of schools under the direct control of the DfE and it is hoped the introduction of chancellors would provide better local oversight.  

The proposed school boards would consist of a chancellor appointed by the DfE and six elected headteachers of local academies and free schools, who would be voted in by heads of all the schools in the area.

A Whitehall source quoted by the Guardian said: "We are building a long-term architecture for a new system: limited focus on failing academies, minimal bureaucracy, no local politics and led by great heads who know their local area.

"We have been working on this for about a year and it will be embedded before the next election and hopefully it will be supported by all three parties."

But Tristram Hunt, Labour’s shadow education secretary, claimed the plans showed Mr Gove’s schools policy was failing. 

“The Government’s aggressive free-market education strategy has not delivered the improvements we need,” Mr Hunt said. “For high standards in all schools we need real local accountability and oversight. 

"These plans would not have prevented the failure we saw at Al-Madinah Free School."

The NUT agreed, adding the proposals were a “clear indication” that Mr Gove’s reforms were in “complete disarray”.

A spokesman for the DfE said the department did not comment on leaked documents.

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