Cautious voluntary sector welcome for academy schools plan

Sustainable funding is the main concern for charities from education secretary Michael Gove's proposals

Voluntary organisations have cautiously welcomed government plans to allow all schools to become  academies with charitable status but are not yet convinced of the benefits.

The new education secretary, Michael Gove, is writing to every school, inviting them to opt out of local authority control and become academies. Gove said the move would provide greater freedom and less bureaucracy.

There are currently about 200 academies. Until now, primary and special schools have not been entitled to apply.

Many special schools are already run by charities, which are considering whether to adopt the academy model.

Virginia Beardshaw, chief executive of I Can, which runs special schools in Nottingham and Surrey for pupils with speech, language and communication needs, said she was interested in the idea but not yet clear on whether it presented any benefits to her schools' existing status as non-maintained special schools.

"We would look with interest at any new category to see if it has advantages," said Beardshaw. "The key question is how it would help the sustainability of the schools. Where is the capital coming from to set them up and where is the revenue funding coming from?"

She said she was concerned that some funders thought academy schools were paid for by the state and could withdraw their support.

The education, children and young people special interest group at chief executives group Acevo has discussed the academy proposals with liberal think tank Policy Exchange.

Amy Richards, policy officer at Acevo, said: "A lot of our members see potential in this, but there are concerns that there needs to be a lot more consultation so the government understands the challenges facing third sector organisations, particularly in terms of sustainable funding."

Neil McIntosh, chief executive of CfBT Education Trust, said the academy model held "limited incentives" and presented risks, such as governors finding themselves personally liable if a school was sued.

McIntosh said academy schools needed "robust governance" and predicted: "I don't think there will be quite the rush to become academies that Michael Gove is expecting."

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