MINISTERS could be given sweeping new powers to ban people with extremist views from running private schools, according to official documents which warn the current system is inadequate.
The planned regulations would also allow the Education Secretary to bar those deemed unsuitable from managing the Government’s flagship free schools or academies.
However, the DfE has claimed that the proposals were aimed “solely” at the fee paying school sector. A spokesman for the department insisted that the Secretary of State already had powers to remove unsuitable people from the management of free schools and academies through the funding agreement system which allows the DfE to intervene when there has been a breach.
But critics of the free school movement last night questioned why these schools had been included in the DfE consultation over the new powers if it did not relate to them.
Recently, allegations of fraud at Bradford’s King Science Academy have thrown the spotlight on free schools, with two of the city’s MPs, David Ward and George Galloway, repeatedly asking for answers in parliament.
The new consultation warns the current powers available to Ministers over the banning of those running independent schools are inadequate.
It follows concerns over religious extremism being taught within some independent schools.
Reports last year claimed that a small proportion of the 50 emergency Ofsted inspections held at private schools related to concerns over the “spiritual” and “moral” development of students,
The new regulations barring people from would cover those with criminal convictions, those who have been found to have committed professional misconduct and extremism.
The DfE warns there is a gap in the current powers which allow Ministers to bar people for “misconduct” which it says is too vague a term.
The document warns that Ministers do not have sufficient powers to prevent people from running independent schools whose behaviour would present an unacceptable example to children.
It also says the current powers are inadequate in protecting “schools and the education service” generally from fraud and deception.
The consultation document repeatedly mentions extremism as an area of concern.
It says: “The draft regulations will provide another helpful tool for the Department in its efforts combating extremism. This is because they make provision for the Secretary of State to direct that persons may not be involved in the management of an independent school on the grounds that they have engaged in “relevant conduct” that makes them unsuitable.
“This would help us to bar those people involved in extremist activity that falls short of the criminal threshold, and may include those who have expressed extremist views.”
Henry Stewart, from the Local Schools Network, set up to promote the work of local-authority run schools said: “The real question here is what has prompted this.
“Has it been that the DfE has identified a gap in theory or is it the recent issues at free schools like the alleged fraud at the Kings Science Academy and the other free school scandals? Despite what the DfE says this consultation document does seem to indicate that the DfE believes there is gap in being able to remove unsuitable people from some state schools.
“How often has the DfE intervened at free schools because of concerns over the people involved so far? It will be interesting to see whether these powers are used to remove people from free schools and academies in future.”
A DfE spokesman said: “The sole purpose of these proposals is to improve the regulation of fee-paying independent schools.
“The proposals will have no material effect on state schools, including free schools, as these powers already exist in the state sector through other means.
“The proposals would allow unsuitable people to be barred from managing fee-paying independent schools.”
The British Humanist Association has welcomed the Government’s plans to tighten up regulations concerning people with extremist views
A spokesman said: “Any tightening up of the rules around independent schools is to be welcomed.”