Wealthy to dominate academies
The expansion of the academies programme will be dominated by affluent and middle class areas, particularly the Home Counties, an analysis of a list of schools keen to make the switch has concluded.
Initially set up to drive up standards in the most deprived areas, the figures reveal that schools in the country's poorest areas are up to six times less likely to become an academy.
Education Secretary Michael Gove gave all schools the opportunity to opt out of local authority control within days of taking office.
The research, undertaken by Education Data Surveys (EDS), sister company of The TES, shows that more than twice as many schools in Kent expressed an interest in the weeks that followed Mr Gove's offer than in the whole of the North East.
Around 12 per cent of schools in Kent put their names forward, whereas less than 2 per cent in Middlesbrough asked for more details.
Similarly, less than 2 per cent of schools in Knowsley and only around 3 per cent in Barnsley expressed an interest, while 10 and 11 per cent of schools in Hertfordshire and Surrey did.
John Howson, managing director of EDS, said: "It shows that social capital matters. The first people out of the blocks are middle class parents who know the system and who know how to put pressure on governing bodies.
"The figures show that it is more likely that middle class Home Counties go for it, rather than inner city authorities."
The Church of England, the biggest academy sponsor, said it had concerns that the expansion of the programme away from areas of need risked "diluting" their original purpose.
Shadow Education Secretary Ed Balls said the academies programme had been totally distorted from its original intentions under Labour.
"This is the proof of what we have always said. Michael Gove's education policy is about excellence for a few, not excellence for all, and entrenching advantage not tackling disadvantage."
But Education minister Lord Hill said: "This is a genuinely permissive policy; there is no pressure for any school to convert by September, and they can do so at any time, when they feel they are ready.
"We want schools to decide what's best for them, not politicians or bureaucrats."