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Clegg's free school call 'too late'

Nick Clegg's call for the Government's new free schools to be open to all and not run for profit may be "too little too late", union leaders have warned.

In a speech delivered as the first wave of the new-style schools prepared to open for the new academic year, the Deputy Prime Minister said that they would be acceptable only if they reduce social segregation.

He called on Education Secretary Michael Gove to ensure that the second wave of the free schools - to be announced within the next few weeks - are in poorer neighbourhoods or in areas with shortages of school places.

In a bid to reassure Liberal Democrat sceptics that the policy will improve social mobility, Mr Clegg insisted that he would never allow independent schools in the state sector to be run for profit. But teaching unions raised concerns that the Government was already "very comfortable" with the idea of state schools being run for profit.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: "Today's appeal by the Deputy Prime Minister urging that free schools should be inclusive and should not be run for profit is welcome but may be too little too late.

"The sad fact is that the coalition Government is moving full steam ahead with an Education Bill which will allow all free schools and academies to apply their own rules to select pupils and to make a profit out of children's education."

Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: "Regardless of what Nick Clegg said this morning, the Conservative-led Government seems to be very comfortable with the idea of state-funded schools being run for profit. The Government is setting everything in place for this, and the only missing piece of the jigsaw is a legal clause."

Mr Clegg acknowledged the programme is "controversial" and carries "risks", but added he was confident that these have been mitigated.

"Let me be clear what I want to see from free schools. I want them to be available to the whole community - open to all children and not just the privileged few. I want them to be part of a school system that releases opportunity, rather than entrenching it.

"They must not be the preserve of the privileged few - creaming off the best pupils while leaving the rest to fend for themselves, causing problems for and draining resources from other nearby schools. So let me give you my assurance: I would never tolerate that."

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