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MPs launch inquiry into academies and free schools after spate of controversies

An influential group of MPs is to launch an inquiry into academies and free schools after a string of controversies, including alleged fraud and poor standards of education.

The Commons education select committee will examine whether state-funded independent schools are being held properly to account and if they are narrowing the attainment gap for disadvantaged children. It will also look at whether academy status is appropriate for primary schools

The move by the committee comes after education secretary Michael Gove’s flagship free schools have come under increasing scrutiny.

The Department for Education was forced to intervene at the Al-Madinah Islamic Free School in Derby after Ofsted described in as being in “chaos” and inadequate in every category. It had previously faced accusations that it discriminated against female staff and pupils.

King Science Academy in Bradford, which is also a free school, is currently being investigated for fraud after claims that it misused public money. Other schools, including Discovery New Primary School in Crawley, have been placed into special measures for offering a substandard quality of education.

In addition, the select committee will look at the so-called ‘middle tier’ between central government and schools in response to the government announcement of the creation of regional schools commissioners, who will intervene when standards in academies and free schools fall.

Graham Stuart, chair of the education select committee, said: “There has been significant growth in the academies and free-schools programme. We are interested at what stands between the secretary of state and individual schools.

“[Schools minister] Lord Nash has been writing letters, but Al Madinah has illustrated the short comings in the current situation, so we are very interested in the function of the so-called middle tier.”

The select committee is asking the public to submit evidence of the performance of academies and free schools to them by 19 December.

Meanwhile, the committee is also asking for questions from the public to ask Mr Gove when he appears in front of them in a separate session on 19 December.

Questions can be submitted via Twitter – using the hashtag #AskGove – on four categories: school places, children’s social care, careers guidance and general questions. The questions can be sent from now until 5pm on 12 December.

Reporting by Alix Robertson

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