Page last updated at 20:40 GMT, Monday, 19 July 2010 21:40 UK

Gove: Academies needed to prevent UK 'falling behind'

Education Secretary Michael Gove has said his plan to expand the academy system would help the poorest children in society and help prevent education in the UK "falling behind other nations".

The Academies Bill will enable all schools in England, including primaries, to apply for academy freedoms, such as the ability to opt out of local authority control and set teachers' pay.

Mr Gove said 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.

The education secretary told MPs on 19 July 2010: "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."

Mr Gove rejected claims that the bill was being rushed through Parliament. "We cannot afford to wait," he said.

"We cannot afford Labour's failed approach any more, with teachers directed from the centre, regulations stifling innovation and our country falling behind other nations.

"We need reform and we need it now. We need the bill," he concluded.

But shadow education secretary Ed Balls claimed the legislation 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".

Mr Balls added: "The clauses in the bill are structured in such a way as to allow the secretary of state to give funding arrangements to private companies taking over the running of schools.

"We will see exactly what they saw in Sweden: private companies travelling around the country touting to parents by saying, 'If you want to set up a school, we'll do it for you—and we'll make a profit out of it.'

"This bill will rip apart the community-based comprehensive education system we have built in the last 60 years and which had delivered record rising standards over the last decade," he predicted.

Mr Balls branded the bill an "utter perversion" of Labour's academies programme and the "biggest centralisation in education policy in the post-war period".

You can see part two of the debate here.

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