Ministers announce plans to extend school academy drive

MINISTERS have announced plans to allow even more state schools to opt out of local council control as new figures reveal that half a million pupils are now being taught in academies.

The rapid expansion of the academy programme has seen 357 schools convert, since September last year , including 162 in the past month across the country.

There are also 473 more state schools bidding for academy status, which gives heads and governors greater freedoms over their budget, staffing and admissions.

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Government figures published yesterday show that nine schools in Yorkshire became academies last month and nine more have been given the go ahead to leave their local authority. The total number of academies in the region is now set to rise above 50.

Originally academies were set up by the last Government as new schools to replace struggling secondaries in deprived areas. Academies are funded direct from Government and run independently. The coalition is now urging existing state schools to apply for academy status.

Last year Ministers said all schools rated as outstanding or good by Ofsted could apply. Schools with lower Ofsted inspection ratings needed to work with a stronger partner in order to become an academy.

Now the Government is extending the programme and will consider applications from any school which “makes a compelling case.” This includes schools delivering improved results and special schools which demonstrate success in meeting the needs of pupils.

Schools Minister Lord Hill said: “As academies they can decide what is best for their pupils, parents and the local community, free from red-tape and politicians.

“By setting good schools free and improving performance in weak schools we will raise standards for all children no matter what their background.”

Roy Hepplestone, the head teacher at Whitehill Community Academy, in Illingworth, which has just converted, said: “We are delighted to become an independent state-funded primary academy and look forward to being able to innovate and make a difference within our educational community.”