Academies and free schools to be ‘first choice’

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AN ACADEMY or parent-led free school should be the “first choice” of local councils planning to open up new primaries or secondaries, according to Education Secretary Michael Gove.

A growing population, particularly in major cities such as Bradford, means that more schools are needed to meet demand .

Mr Gove said yesterday that he wants councils to consider opening free schools or academies to help provide the extra places.

Speaking ahead of the first ever Free School Conference, in London, he said: “We are getting a big population boom, particularly in London and parts of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire; we do need new schools, particularly at primary level.

“My view is we should encourage innovation and choice by ensuring that as many of these schools as possible are academies or free schools.”

Academies and free schools are state funded but run independently with money coming direct from Government. Academies were originally introduced by Labour to replace struggling secondaries in poor areas.

Free schools have been introduced by the coalition to allow groups of parents and teachers to set up their own schools whenever they are unhappy with the choice on offer in their area.

Mr Gove has, however, invited all schools rated as outstanding or good to apply be run as academies – with the freedom to set their own curriculum, admissions arrangements and timetable.

A clause in the new Education Bill, says “that if a local authority in England think a new school needs to be established in their area, they must seek proposals for the establishment of an academy”.

Bradford is facing a major shortage of school places with an extra 40,000 expected to be needed within the next 10 years.

But the council’s executive member for education Coun Ralph Berry is worried about relying on free schools to meet the demand.

He said: “I have a problem with turning to an untested national idea ahead of a proven approach with a track record in the local area.”

There have already been four proposals for free schools in Bradford with two: the Rainbow School and the King’s Science Academy approved by Ministers to develop a business case for their plans.

Mr Gove’s comments came as newly-published Department for Education figures showed that 249 groups have now submitted proposals to set up one of the Government’s new “free schools”.

Thirty-five groups have been allowed to develop a business plan including six in Yorkshire.

These include the Birkenshaw, Birstall and Gomersal Parents Alliance who want to open a secondary school and Batley Grammar School which wants to switch from the private sector, The Three Valleys Independent Academy, is planned for a site in Manvers, near Rotherham, and the McAuley College Academy in Hull is being led by St Mary’s College – an existing state secondary school.