Government pledges to 'set schools free' (with video)

ACADEMIES - free of state interference - could become the norm in England's education system, Michael Gove said today. He has written to every primary, secondary and special school in the country inviting them to apply for academy status.

The Education Secretary said he anticipated a high take-up of his offer to all schools to apply for academy status.

He also indicated that salaries for headteachers of these new academies should not be capped, saying that you "can't put a price" on good leadership.

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Mr Gove was revealing more details of his plans to grant state schools more independence.

Those rated "outstanding" by Ofsted - around 600 secondaries and about 2,000 primaries - have been pre-approved for academy status, meaning those that apply now will be able to reopen as academies in September.

These new academies will receive their funding directly and could be managed by outside companies.

The measures are contained in an Academies Bill being introduced in Parliament this afternoon,

At a press conference today, Mr Gove said there had already been several expressions of interest.

Asked how widespread he thought take-up would be, Mr Gove said politicians had previously said they imagined the academies, particularly at secondary level, would become "the norm".

"I anticipate that will be the case," he said.

The Education Secretary was also asked if there should be a limit to the pay of headteachers at academies.

Mr Gove, who was holding a press conference with headteachers of outstanding schools who support the proposals, said: "To my mind, you can't put a price on what (they) have done."

He added: "Ultimately it is a matter for the governors, we would like to see more people like them in education.

"We are operating at a time overall of constrained finances, money spent on education is there to attract and retain the very best people at every level."

Under current rules, there is no limit on salaries for staff at academies.

Mr Gove also reacted to claims that new freedoms would allow schools to teach ideas like creationism as scientific fact - a concern previously raised by union leaders.

He said that Ofsted would check curriculums and that Ofsted "wouldn't allow schools to teach bogus science or fake theories."

"It is mildly insulting to the teaching profession to think that if they got more control of the curriculum they would want to teach wild, woolly and wacky theories in schools."

Mr Gove insisted it was up to schools to decide whether to take up his offer.

While outstanding schools would be pre-approved, those rated good or satisfactory who applied would have their applications assessed.

He said it was "extremely unlikely" that a school deemed inadequate by Ofsted would be capable of gaining academy status in their own right.

"Schools that have been in special measures for a year and haven't seen improvement will be matched with an academy sponsor or others with a track record of academy sponsorship," he said.

Outstanding schools would be encouraged to join up with poorer performing schools in their areas when making their bid, he said.

Mr Gove was also forced to reply to criticisms levelled against the proposals that they would take funding away from schools still under local authority control - most often those in poorer areas.

He said: "One of the reasons we are opening this up to all schools is we believe the educational freedoms academy status will bring will drive up standards for all children.

"This isn't about coercion, it's about empowering professionalism."

Earlier today he said that a new "pupil premium" - money which follows poorer youngsters from school to school - would help to stop this.

Mr Gove also set the scene for schools to join up with businesses.

"There may be schools that want to develop closer relationships with the world of business."

Dan Moynihan of the Harris Foundation, which runs nine academies, said this was "the beginning of an academic revolution".

"It has the potential to transform the life prospects of disadvantaged children across the country."

Sally Coates, head of Burlington Danes Academy in west London said being an academy was "not a panacea".

"You can be a successful school without being an academy," she said, "but it really helps drive that forward."

There are currently around 200 academies - which are semi-independent state schools - and the previous Government had plans to double that to around 400.

The new Academies Bill opens up the door for thousands more to be granted freedom from local authority control.

It also paves the way for "free schools" which will see parents, teachers, charities, trusts and voluntary groups given state funding to set up and operate schools on the Swedish model, which would be taxpayer-funded and non-fee-paying but independent from state control.

The Tories held on to these plans in the coalition agreement with the Lib Dems.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) called Mr Gove's ideas on pay at academies "interesting".

"It's different to what's been said about the civil service where there has been a pay cap, and no one can earn more than the prime minister or 20 times that of the lowest paid," she said.

School improvement and achievement is not just down to the head, but the whole team of teachers and school staff, Ms Blower said.

She added: "No one thinks teachers should be poorly paid, but the idea that there's no cap to what can be earned is unreasonable."

Former Education Secretary Ed Balls predicted a "two tier" and "deeply unfair" system as a result of fast tracking academy status for the highest performing schools and allowing free schools.

"The price for that will be paid by cancelling new school buildings, taking money, teachers, away from existing schools, often in more disadvantaged communities," he told BBC News 24.

"That is not only wasteful, I fear that it will turn out to be deeply, deeply unfair."