Welsh Tories back academies project

29th May 2009 at 01:00

English-style academies could be introduced in Wales under a Tory-run Assembly government.

Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne this week revealed plans to fund schools directly from Cardiff Bay instead of via local authorities.

He said this would give heads, staff and governors greater control over budgets, maintenance, administration and the curriculum.

Reform was "desperately needed", he said, to narrow the achievement gap between Wales and England.

"There is a growing body of evidence that freeing up schools to make their own decisions leads to a wide range of benefits," he said.

Under the plans, schools would still be held accountable by Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate, and would still have to teach the core subjects.

Mr Bourne said there would be no privatisation of any kind and no fees for pupils.

David Reynolds, professor of education at the University of Plymouth, said the idea could appeal to cash-strapped schools.

"Four or five years ago there wasn't the appetite for this sort of thing, but now there's a 10 per cent funding gap between schools in Wales and England I think schools would look seriously at it for the money," he said.

Gareth Jones, of heads' union ASCL Cymru, said more funding should go directly to schools, but warned there was no appetite for a "fractured" education system.

He added: "More freedoms could also mean a greater workload for headteachers, who have enough to deal with already."

Meanwhile, the Westminster Government is considering giving state schools the freedoms of academies, The TES has learnt.

In a response to a House of Lords committee report released last week, the Government said it was looking into handing out "certain" freedoms enjoyed by academies to every school in England.

The move marks a significant shift away from previous education policy under Gordon Brown.

An Assembly government spokeswoman said it had no plans to introduce academy-style schools in Wales. "Local authorities are best placed to make decisions on local education provision based on their knowledge of needs and demands in their area," she said.

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