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Education: It’s time for the Church to face the facts

by
13 June 2012

by David Rossdale

Quality product: the Bishop of Grimsby with children from Chest­nut Street Primary School, Ruskington, SLEAFORD STANDARD

Quality product: the Bishop of Grimsby with children from Chest­nut Street Primary School, Ruskington, SLEAFORD STANDARD

THE Government’s academies pro­gramme, in which the Church of Eng­land’s educa­tion arm is increas­ingly enmeshed, has been called a revolution. That may be an overstatement, but it is certainly a paradigm shift in this highly political sphere of public life. It also calls for a fresh mindset in the Church, both na­tionally and locally, in relation to its schools.

The General Synod has declared, time and again, that schools are at the centre of the Church’s mission. None the less, many bishops, diocesan secretaries, and boards of finance do not see funding for education as an investment in our ministry, despite the one million chil­dren who attend church schools. It appears that they would rather put resources into parochial ministry.

This mindset has to change. The Church of England is the largest academy provider in the country, and yet our education division, and diocesan boards of education, are significantly under-resourced to meet the hugely increased respon­sibilities the programme entails.

Academy sponsorship moves the Church from being a partner in education to being a provider, and with that position now comes the full responsibility for standards of attainment which was formerly laid on local auth­orities.

OUR diocesan boards now also have to respond to a new government re­quire­ment — that under-achieving schools must become academies. Where under-achieving church schools are involved, the relevant diocese must act as sponsor, in order to keep the new academy in the church family.

This is important, not just for the Church but for vulnerable com­munities that risk having their schools taken over by an academy chain whose headquarters might be in another part of the country. Many church schools serve just such communities, and accept the chal­lenges involved.

At present, there is significant public con­fidence in church schools to provide high-quality education. But the danger is that the academy programme will reveal that we lack the resources needed consistently to deliver the standards required of us. A suc­cession of academies where the Church of Eng­land is deemed incapable of delivering ac­ceptable standards of learning and be­-haviour will quickly erode public confidence in our ability to be a provider of education.

Two important questions face the Church of England. First, can we live out our Christian values of inclusion if our reputation in education is compromised? And, second, will we provide the resources that are critical if we are to remain one of the main providers of schools in our country?

The Rt Revd David Rossdale is the Bishop of Grimsby.

The Rt Revd David Rossdale is the Bishop of Grimsby.

A question of Trust

by Howard Dellar

A question of Trust

by Howard Dellar

MOST dioceses now have diocesan umbrella trusts (DUTs). They use these to sponsor failing schools as they become academies — providing what the Depart­ment for Education calls “the sponsor solution”. These trusts, however, are not the legal vehicle for the schools them­selves; nor are they the direct recipient of public money.

MOST dioceses now have diocesan umbrella trusts (DUTs). They use these to sponsor failing schools as they become academies — providing what the Depart­ment for Education calls “the sponsor solution”. These trusts, however, are not the legal vehicle for the schools them­selves; nor are they the direct recipient of public money.

So, the logical companion vehicle for a DUT is a diocesan-controlled multi-academy trust company (MAT), which actually runs schools. Such companies would usually be owned jointly by the DUT, the diocesan board of education, and, sometimes, the diocesan board of finance. To ensure that a diocese, as sponsor, could effectively control the company, and take the measures necessary to transform the edu­cation of pupils, a substantial majority of the directors would be appointed by the diocese.

Multi-academy companies provide a safe haven for schools in special measures, directed by the Secretary of State to convert to academy status. This prevents the loss of church schools in deprived communities to one or other of the academy chains. But the companies enables it also to take under their wing, as academies, schools that feel they are too small to stand alone, those that want to be part of a larger organ­isation, or out­standing church schools with a strong sense of commitment to their neighbours.

Larger multi-academy com­panies may be able to appoint an executive team that is focused on school improvement, using dedicated government funds. Help from charitable endow­ments, and revenue produced by selling their services, may provide further funds. But the finance and staffing that are re­quired inevitably have consider­able resourcing im­plications for dioceses. This is because the Government places on them the responsibility for standards that were formerly the duty of local authorities.

I foresee a need for most dioceses to establish such com­panies over the next year. The speed of change is such that time is not on the sponsor’s side.

Howard Dellar is a partner in the firm of Lee Bolton Monier-Williams, solicitors

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