Academies Bill paves the way for greater freedoms

28th May 2010 at 01:00

The academies programme - one of the central themes of the Conservatives' manifesto - will feature heavily in the work of the new administration.

As announced in the Queen's Speech earlier this week, an Academies Bill will be the first piece of education legislation under the new Con-Lib coalition Government.

The bill will enable hundreds of the country's top-performing state schools to become an academy by September.

It will legislate that all schools deemed to be "outstanding" by Ofsted will automatically have the right to become an academy and adopt new freedoms, such as more control over teacher pay and conditions and enhanced opportunity to divert from the curriculum.

However, it is the 10-12 per cent additional funding that comes with academy status which will tempt many schools, particularly as the country enters a period of tighter fiscal control.

The proposals are opposed by teaching unions, which believe the academies programme could result in cash being taken away from existing state schools to offer new academies the promised financial incentive.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the decision to expand the policy came as "no surprise", but questioned whether it achieves best value for money.

"Every time we hear from this new coalition Government we are told we are in dire financial constraints, but every announcement on schools has been the ... most expensive policy available," Ms Keates said. "More autonomy for 23,500 schools is very expensive. If what they say is true and the exchequer is empty, then how will they pay for this financial incentive? They will most likely take money from schools that are not academies."

It is expected that the Academies Bill will pave the way for the Conservatives' "free school" movement, which is based on the Swedish and US charter models.

Under the coalition agreement, both parties have agreed to "ensure that new providers can enter the state school system in response to parental demand", while giving "parents, teachers, charities and local communities the chance to set up new schools".

But one source close to the Conservatives said: "There will be a number of schools on the list hoping to become a free school, which are actually in line to be closed by their local authority. I would say they will be quite disappointed when their application is finally looked at."

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