By Ray Fleming

THIS morning, first class mail delivery permitting, the headmasters of some 2'500 primary and secondary schools in England will receive a letter from Michael Gove, the new Education minister, inviting them to apply for “Academy status” which will give them greater freedom and better funding in all aspects of the running of their schools. It is an attractive offer which many schools will take up. However, there are already serious questions being asked about the effect that these Academies will have on education as a whole.

As Mr Gove has acknowledged, Academies were the idea of Labour in 2000. However, what Mr Gove has in mind is quite different from Labour's plan which was to encourage Academies that would provide better education in deprived areas where “everything else has failed”. Some 200 have been established with generally encouraging results. By contrast Mr Gove's offer is being made to schools which have already achieved an “outstanding” rating from inspectors -- a totally different concept. In itself it might have merit but the extra public funding for these schools will come from an unaltered public education provision -- with the obvious result that other less-than-outstanding schools will suffer. As a sop, Mr Gove says he hopes the new Academies will help poorly performing comprehensives in their area, although he will not make this compulsory. Labour's Academy concept has been turned on its head with the introduction of this socially divisive two-tier system.