Tories would give academy schools 'exempt charity' status, says Michael Gove

Government decision to abandon the move is condemned by the opposition

Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, has criticised a U-turn by the Government on academy schools and pledged that a Tory government would grant them 'exempt charity' status.

The Government yesterday dropped a clause in the Children, Schools and Families Bill that would have granted 200 academy trusts exempt status, transferring their regulation from the Charity Commission to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

In a letter to the Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, schools minister Vernon Coaker said: "Following discussions with the commission, its chief executive has confirmed that it will take a number of steps to simplify the registration process for academies, including a review of ways they can be supported through the registration process.

"I am now satisfied that the Government can meet its objectives without the need for clause 42."

Gove said that schools secretary Ed Balls, who told Parliament last month that granting them exempt status was the right way forward, had "relentlessly undermined the independence of academies".

He said: "Their freedom from bureaucracy allows them to raise standards for the poorest children.

"Despite saying they would unburden academies, this Government is now piling on more and more red tape. This is exactly the wrong direction to be going in."

A spokeswoman for the commission said: "Yesterday's decision gives clarity and certainty to those academies that are currently registered charities and for those that will be establishing academies in the future.

"Keeping academies within the mainstream charity framework avoids any confusion about their status, accountability, transparency or independence."

The commission had strongly opposed the proposal and lobbied the Government for it to be dropped. Exempt charities are subject to charity law but are not regulated by the commission because regulation by other bodies is deemed to be sufficient.

The sector umbrella body the NCVO welcomed the Government's move as a "victory for common sense".

Stuart Etherington, NCVO chief executive, said: "More than 200 academies are already registered with the Charity Commission and to switch them to a different regulatory body would only have created confusion about what constitutes a charity and how it is held accountable."

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