More than 1,000 schools step forward to take up offer of academy freedoms
More than a thousand schools have applied to become academies after Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to all headteachers last week offering greater freedom and independence.
In total, 1,114 schools have put themselves forward to be considered for academy status, of which 626 were judged "outstanding" by Ofsted and will immediately be able to opt out of local authority control once the Academies Bill is passed.
As a TES survey in April suggested the number of academies is expected to triple by September once the Government's legislation is pushed through, with 250 primary schools automatically taking up the new freedoms.
Speaking at the Queen's Speech debate on Wednesday, Mr Gove said it was teachers and their heads that knew best how to run schools, which is why they were offered academy freedoms last week.
"The response has been overwhelming," Mr Gove said. "In just one week, over 1,100 schools have applied. Of these, 626 are outstanding schools, including more than 250 primary schools, nearly 300 secondary schools (over half of all the outstanding secondary schools in the country) and over 50 special schools.
"The last government denied teachers and headteachers the powers they need. This Government will ensure that all who do want them can receive them."
The move was welcomed by Patricia Sowter, headteacher of Cuckoo Hall Primary, north London, one of the outstanding schools offered to take up academy status.
Speaking at the Department for Education last week, Ms Sowter said: "At the moment, the academy programme is only open to failing secondary schools, but I felt some of the freedoms should be given to schools like mine.
"I should be able to make more decisions over things such as funding so that I can sustain the progress that we have made. If it's available to failing schools, then why not outstanding schools?"
But the decision has been criticised by teaching union the NASUWT, which said it would look to convince schools not to opt for academy status.
The union's general secretary Chris Keates said: "It must be disappointing - the relatively low level of interest the Secretary of State has managed for his academies plan.
"But having said that, one academy is one too many for the NASUWT and we will be campaigning to seek to stop the schools that have expressed an interest in becoming an academy."
John Bangs, head of education at teaching union the NUT, said the Department's decision to grant schools academy freedoms paid no attention to the views of teachers.
"There are heads who have not spoken to their staff about whether it was right to become an academy," he said. "By not holding any kind of consultation, Gove has never considered the impact of academies on teachers themselves.
"A recent YouGov poll of teachers showed that 47 per cent thought the introduction of the academies programme had had a negative impact on the schools system."