Two Watford schools officially became academies yesterday.

Watford Grammar School for Boys and Watford Grammar School for Girls have both taken advantage of the government’s new Academies Act to cut their links with Hertfordshire County Council, the organisation responsible for most schools in the county.

Academy schools will retain state funding but will be outside of local authority control, allowing them to greater freedom on admissions rules, curriculum, staff pay and pupil discipline.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, who announced that some 32 schools would be reopening as academies nationwide, believes the move will drive up standards.

Both of Watford’s Grammar Schools, however, are already rated as “outstanding” by the government – a ranking that allowed them to secure independent status so quickly.

So why change at all?

Boys’ school headmaster Martin Post explained in three words: “because we can.” He added: “We have had an excellent relationship with Hertfordshire County Council but we have always wanted our independence. Who wouldn’t do this if they could? Old academies were about failing schools; new academies are about outstanding schools.”

Mr Post stressed that pupils returning to school would see no changes at all; nor, he stressed, were any material changes planned in the future. He did, however, suggest increased examinations flexibility in the future, with the possible implementation of the Pre-U A-Level equivalent test – so far used only experimentally.

In a letter to parents he added that the move would bring “greater autonomy, and therefore security.”

Helen Hyde, Head of the girls’ school, is also the president of the Foundation, Aided Schools and Academies National Association (FASNA). She said: "We will use the freedoms and autonomy to improve the educational provision for our students.”

The scheme, however, has many opponents, including some teaching unions, who argue that it gives too much power to too few individuals and threatens to create a two tier education system.

Neil Faulkner, of the Anti Academies Alliance pressure group, argued they would create “a process whereby a comprehensive system of education controlled by the Local Education Authority (LEA) began to break up.” This process, he added, will inevitably lead to privatisation and increased ability-based selection.

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