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Government sets aside £200m to build new free schools

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Ministers will spend at least £200m accelerating the creation of hundreds of ‘free schools’ in England as they seek to end local authorites’ historic role in education provision

The funding announcement is buried in the Department of Education white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, which sets out its intention to convert all state schools into academies.

Government’s plan to force all council-run schools to become academies was revealed by the Chancellor in his budget speech on Wednesday (16 March).

The extra funding is one of a series of measures to speed the delivery of 500 free schools - a key pledge in the Conservative party manifesto.

Only 29 free schools are open or in the pipeline, according to the paper. ‘We want to go further’, the DfE document states.

‘We will…make available capital funding to support the expansion of existing provision, as well as the development of new schools to create new specialist places,’ it adds.

‘At least £200 million will be available, and we will say more about how this will be distributed later in 2016.’

The paper also proposes several new measures to speed up conversions by improving academy developers’ access to public land.

Under one proposal, the secretary of state will seize school land held by local authorities once the school has officially gained academy status.

This land will then be leased by Whitehall to an academy trust, the paper states.

Another measure will allow ministers to direct councils to make public land available for free schools. This would ‘ensure sufficient new schools can be established where they are needed.’

The number of academies in England have shot up since David Cameron has held the post of prime minister, the DfE paper indicates.

Before May 2010 when the coalition government he led took power, there were just 203 academies. At the last count in December 2015, there were 3,516 academies.

The majority of English secondary schools are now academies, and almost all new schools are now academies, according to the DfE.

‘The academy system is now sufficiently mature to move to the next phase, with every school an academy,’ its paper states.

‘Local authorities will have a new duty to facilitate the process of all maintained schools becoming academies.’

It continues: ‘Where schools are not academies or have not started the process by 2020, we will take steps to direct them to become academies so that by 2022 we will have brought a definitive end to the role of local authorities in maintaining schools.’

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