Houses and Shops Could Host Schools; Unions Hit out as Gove Vows to Cut Red Tape

Article excerpt

Byline: Alison Kershaw

HOUSES and shops could be turned into classrooms under new plans to make it easier for parents and teachers to set up their own schools. Education Secretary Michael Gove revealed he has ordered a relaxation of planning laws and building regulations which he says are "too bureaucratic" and prevent new schools from being built.

The move is Mr Gove's latest step in implementing the Tories' key education reform - free schools.

From now, parents, teachers, charities and other groups can begin submitting their bids to set up their own schools.

The Department for Education (DfE) is publishing a proposal form for groups to fill out, setting out their reasons, the aims and objectives of the school, an outline of a curriculum, evidence of demand from parents and possible locations. Mr Gove said the DfE is taking "practical steps" to make the process easier, and, working with the Department for Communities and Local Government, will be changing planning rules.

"We're proposing to change the use class system to make it easier for buildings which are currently being used as, or classed as, residential or commercial to be converted to school use, and we're also planning to relax some of the rather onerous building regulations that prevent schools being created," he said. "We don't need to have the degree of prescription and regulation that's governed school buildings so far."

"It's been a tragedy that so much of the money that's been devoted to capital investment for schools has been swallowed up by bureaucracy."

Mr Gove said it is "amazingly complicated, not just to build a new school, but to convert an existing building into a school". Applicants must comply with reams of regulations that even include rules on bike racks, he said.

"It's that sort of ridiculous bureaucratic nonsense which has impeded the imagination and idealism of people who want to transform state education that we are going to change."

In future, new schools will have to comply with rules similar to private schools that make sure children are safe, can learn and adhere to basic minimum standards. …