Only the deprived need apply
Tough new rules for qualifying for academy status have been drafted by the Government's leading adviser on the independent non-fee-paying schools.
Sir Cyril Taylor has put forward a set of tighter criteria for schools seeking to become academies, after The TES revealed ambiguities surrounding those selected for the pound;5 billion project.
His move comes as the Prime Minister pledged this week to accelerate the pace of education reform, of which the academies policy is the centrepiece.
In his monthly press conference, Tony Blair said: "By the end of this third term, I want every school that wants to be, to be able to be an independent, non-fee-paying state school, with the freedom to innovate... subject to certain common standards."
A white paper, which will set out further reform, is due in the next two weeks. The academies project has repeatedly been billed by ministers as designed for "failing" schools.
Yet The TES disclosed last week that none of the 28 secondaries so far closed to become academies was failing, using Ofsted's definition, at the time of closure. Some had good inspection reports. Four were successful city technology colleges.
The Department for Education and Skills said that there were no hard-and-fast rules on which schools qualify to become academies. It offered a broader definition of under-performance, saying many of those already closed were either in special measures, serious weaknesses or causing concern to inspectors at the time the closure decisions were taken.
Sir Cyril, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, said he wanted to tighten up the criteria for which schools qualify. The bottom line was that schools closing to become academies had to be in deprived areas.
Social disadvantage would be assessed on the proportion of pupils eligible for free meals or on levels of local unemployment or crime. Another criterion was low performance at key stage 3, GCSE and, if they had a sixth form, A-level, relative to neighbouring secondaries.
There also had to be evidence of "under-performance" on attendance and the ratio of applications to places. Schools might also have high numbers of exclusions, problems of bullying and many staff vacancies. Schools with poor inspection reports would be given priority.
Sir Cyril said the rules had yet to be approved by the DfES. But he wants to include them in material sent to potential sponsors, to make clear that thriving secondaries in non-deprived areas should not be eligible.