Just 153 schools apply for academy status

Michael Gove claimed last month that figure was over 1,100, as education bill was rushed through par

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Oh dear, Michael Gove. The man hailed as one of the brightest and best incoming Tory MPs has made yet another error.

It has emerged that only 153 schools have applied to become academies under his flagship "free schools" policy.

This is slightly surprising, given that, on 2 June, he issued this statement:

The response has been overwhelming. In just one week, over 1,100 schools have applied. Of these, 626 are outstanding schools, including over 250 primary schools, nearly 300 secondary schools (over half of all the outstanding secondary schools in the country) and over 50 special schools.

This supposed high demand was used as a justification for fast-tracking the bill through parliament before the summer recess, which began this week. In a highly dubious move, it was passed in just three days, using emergency parliamentary powers.

One problematic aspect of Gove's statement -- apart from its inaccuracy -- is that it is hardly just a bungled figure plucked from the top of his head: it gives a detailed breakdown of the figures.

The shadow education secretary and Labour leadership hopeful Ed Balls has called on Gove to explain why he "misleadingly claimed that more than 1,000 schools had applied", adding:

It seems to me that the real reason for the rush was to avoid proper scrutiny for a deeply flawed piece of legislation.

Gove is already skating on thin ice, after a litany of errors over lists of cancelled school-building projects.

So, what is the real story? Was Gove being deliberately deceptive, as Balls implies? It is possible, but as recent past example has shown, he does not seem to be one for detail (and nor does the department under him).

The Department for Education reportedly revealed a list of 1,907 schools that had expressed interest in becoming academies, so it is possible that Gove failed to make the distinction between interest and actual applications.

More schools will probably apply for academy status in due course, but given that initial demand is far lower than stated, and none of the schools is likely to change status by September, it will be difficult to justify the speed with which the legislation was forced through.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Free trial CSS