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No sign of minimum design standards in 'free school' bill

Calls for minimum design standards in the new Academies Bill, which is being rushed through parliament, have fallen on deaf ears

Lord Howarth and fellow peer Baroness Whitaker have both raised the issue during report stage debates in the House of Lords in recent weeks. However there is no trace of design standards in the proposed legislation which, if approved, would allow a wave of new ‘free schools’ to be built.

Under-fire education secretary Michael Gove (pictured), who a fortnight ago axed the £55 billion Building Schools for the Future programme, has come in for more criticism for hurrying through the latest education reforms which would pave the way for more schools to opt out of local authority control and gain greater freedoms.

Gove, who is pushing the bill through the Commons before the summer recess which begins next week, told MPs: ‘We can’t afford to wait. We need reform, we need it now and we need this bill.’

But shadow education secretary Ed Balls claimed the Bill, which has already completed its passage through the Lords, was being ‘railroaded’ through the Commons to avoid proper scrutiny.

He warned it would create an ‘unfair, two-tier’ education system and act as ‘enabling legislation for the free market schools policy’.

Earlier, Gove told MPs he is building on the reforms introduced under former prime minister Tony Blair, but the move has been attacked by Labour who claim it will focus on schools which are already successful rather than helping failing schools to improve.

He told the Commons: ‘Today’s second reading of the Academies Bill marks the first legislative step in fulfilment of our manifesto commitment to improve England’s education system.

‘It grants greater autonomy to individual schools, it gives more freedom to teachers and it injects a new level of dynamism into a programme that has been proven to raise standards for children, and the disadvantaged most of all.’

A Labour amendment declining to give the Bill a second reading because it ‘creates the legal framework for the expensive free market schools reforms which will be funded by scrapping existing school building programmes’ was defeated by 333 votes to 234, Government majority 99.

The Bill was given a second reading by 326 votes to 236, Government majority 90, and now moves on to its committee stage.

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