Bill has 'hallmarks of Germany in the 1930s'

2nd July 2010 at 01:00

The government's Academies Bill will give Education Secretary Michael Gove control over schools "not seen since the Germany of the 1930s", according to observers.

The legislation, currently making its way through the House of Lords, was introduced to boost the number of academies in England, but concerns have been raised over a clause that will give Mr Gove "remarkably wide powers" over schools.

Announcing the bill last month, the Education Secretary said he hoped to see academies become the norm among secondaries in England, creating hundreds of the schools each year.

But there are fears over the amount of control Mr Gove will have over the new academies if the bill is passed in its current form.

The legislation provides the Education Secretary with powers to take direct control over academy funding without having to seek parliamentary approval.

According to former chief schools adjudicator Sir Peter Newsam, the Academies Bill "destroys" parts of the 1944 Education Act that was "consciously designed as a bulwark against absolutism".

Sir Peter said: "This funding arrangement opens up the possibility of the secretary of state pulling the funding in an instant if he doesn't agree with, say, the way a school is teaching history, or how their uniform looks. It has all the hallmarks of Germany in the 1930s.

"Absolutism does not have to infect the heart of a democratic society by means of a moustache and a scowling face. Poorly adjusted legislation can do the job just as effectively."

Sir Peter added: "The existing academy funding arrangement is fine with a handful of schools, but if you have 300 or more the system cracks, so this alternative arrangement is a shortcut. Any school that signs up to this arrangement is stupid."

An amendment was tabled by three Liberal Democrat peers last week in an attempt to limit the powers that the new bill will afford Mr Gove, but the move was blocked.

Baroness Garden raised concerns that the Academies Bill would give the Secretary of State "remarkably wide powers".

Baroness Williams added: "An academy could be approved, or for that matter rejected, with the involvement of virtually no one but the secretary of state. Within a democratic structure, that is not an acceptable way to go."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the centralised accountability was the "price you pay for more autonomy".

A Department for Education spokesman said the clause had been written into the bill to provide the secretary of state with more flexibility.

"We believe the vast majority of academies will continue to be funded through the normal funding agreement route; however, the grant method might be more practical in some specific instances," he said.

Comment, page 29.

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