A PLAN to bring in an overarching structure for free schools and academies has been criticised by key East Lancashire figures.

Free floating academies and free schools in East Lancashire will from September come under the remit of a Regional School Commissioner.

The move has been described as undemocratic by unions and as ‘backwards’ by free school Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, QEGS.

Blackburn with Darwen schools councillor Dave Harling added that it would be ‘second best’ to the experience of local authorities.

Blackburn and Lancashire’s NUT leader Simon Jones said: “Instead of all schools being accountable to democratically elected local authorities, we now have thousands of free-floating schools without proper oversight.

“Clearly local authorities are best placed to carry out the role of ensuring all local schools provide high standards of education and supporting school improvement as needed.

“This means yet more confusing, expensive and bureaucratic arrangement of school accountability.”

Nick Kershaw, business manager at QEGS, said the move was a retrograde step. He said: “The idea behind free schools is that they are free to fail or succeed on their own merits. I think this is just pandering to fears that the concept might fail without support – but that is the point of the idea. I think the government have failed to have the courage of their own convictions here. It’s not clear how much involvement they will have yet though, and a lot depends upon that.”

Coun Harling added: “It’s simply an attempt to replace the established local authorities with non-elected officials who answer only to the Secretary of State.”

From September eight new Regional School Commissioners appointed by the Secretary of State for Education, will assume responsibility for intervening in underperforming academies, approving new academies and approving new academy sponsors. They will report to a new National Schools Commissioner.

From the same date, Head Teacher Boards will advise and assist the RSC. Nominations for remaining elected positions, which can be made only by academy heads in the region, close on Friday June 13 to be announced in July.

Wigan-based Parbold Primary head Paul Smith has been named as the first Regional Schools Commissioner for Lancashire and West Yorkshire.