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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 November 2007, 11:35 GMT
Tories warn on academy 'retreat'
Academies will be reviewed by the government
The Conservatives are accusing the government of backtracking on school reform - in response to a 10, Downing Street review of academies.

The Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove says that the government is planning a "retreat" from its support for academies.

In response, the Schools Secretary Ed Balls said the allegations about academies were "utter nonsense".

Mr Balls said he was committed to accelerating the academy project.

Academies are the government's flagship attempt to raise standards in the most deprived areas of England - creating well-equipped "independent state schools" in areas which have suffered from a long legacy of educational underachievement.


Launched by the former prime minister, Tony Blair, they have also been supported by the Conservatives, who have repeatedly claimed that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is only lukewarm in his support for these autonomous, high-cost schools.

Commenting on the launch of a review into academies, Mr Gove said this was an "ominous sign that [Schools Secretary] Ed Balls is preparing to retreat further on the reform agenda".

"It looks as though he is preparing to abandon altogether the agenda of greater school freedoms and new entrants driving up higher standards in disadvantaged areas."

Schools Secretary Ed Balls rejected this claim, saying that he was committed to opening more academies at a faster rate.

The review was a routine scrutiny process, he said, in which 10, Downing Street, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Treasury will "look at the delivery of the academy programme to ensure it is meeting all our objectives".

Liberal Democrat schools spokesperson, David Laws, claimed that the government wanted to "strangle" school academies.

"Instead of giving more schools the freedom to innovate, as only a few academies have been allowed to, this review is set to re-assert the dead hand of central control," said Mr Laws.

The review will include discussions with head teachers and business sponsors.

There are currently 83 academies - with plans for a network of 400 schools. They have been popular with parents, in terms of applications, but have been criticised by teachers' unions for their links to private sponsors.

The government has highlighted above-average improvements in results - often against a background of social disadvantage.

But a report from the Public Accounts Committee warned of cost over-runs of academies - and said that they were a "relatively costly means of tackling low attainment".

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