All maintained schools will have the right to apply for academy status, removing them from local authority control and giving them the power to make key decisions at the school level, under new proposals announced by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove. Special schools and primary schools are to be included in the academy programme for the first time.
Mr Gove also announced plans to fast track academy applications from schools rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, and the first wave of new academies is expected to be unveiled for the start of the academic year this September.
Academy status is intended to provide schools with more independence by providing funding directly from central government and letting schools take their own decisions relating to staffing, resources and educational provision. The Government claims that academies will have much greater control over their own budgets; they will be able to set their own pay and conditions for staff and they will be able to change the length of terms and the school day. Academies are also promised more control over what they teach and how they do it, and will not have to follow the national curriculum.
Announcing the proposed legislation, Mr Gove said: “The Government is genuinely committed to giving schools greater freedoms. We trust teachers and head teachers to run their schools. We think head teachers know how to run their schools better than bureaucrats or politicians.” Mr Gove wrote to all school heads at the end of May about the new proposals, and a week later over 1100 schools had formally registered their interest in becoming an academy.
However, the Government’s plans have come in for severe criticism from a number of sources, amidst fears that the programme is elitist and may severely disadvantage schools in underprivileged areas. Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary and leadership hopeful, Ed Balls, condemned the proposals, saying that the Labour Government’s academy programme had been aimed at transforming under-performing schools. “What Michael Gove is saying to schools all around the country is ‘break away, go off and do your own thing’. These schools will get extra resources which in effect will come from other schools in their area, and he is doing this first for those who are already doing well”, said Mr Balls.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has also slammed the plan to extend academies, claiming that schools will be less accountable and the education system more divided. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “Initial moves to grant Academy status to high performing schools will create a highly divided school system which will do nothing to improve the overall quality of education.”
In what is being interpreted by many on the centre right as a clear sign of intent, The Government has also moved swiftly to introduce a raft of measures designed to streamline the education system. The Department for Children, Schools and Families has been re-branded as the Department for Education and a number of Government quangos are to be abolished. Becta, the agency promoting the use of information and communications technology and the body responsible for the Home Access scheme, is being wound down during this financial year. Plans are in place to abolish the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) the regulatory body for public examinations and publicly funded qualifications.
The General Teaching Council for England is also to be scrapped because, according to a statement by Mr Gove, “this organisation does little to raise teaching standards or professionalism. Instead it simply acts as a further layer of bureaucracy while taking money away from teachers.”
Michael Gove’s letter to headteachers can be downloaded at: