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Changes to funding mean schools can join academy trusts

12 July 2013

Hundreds of community and voluntary controlled schools will be able to join voluntary aided schools in church-led multi-academy trusts while retaining their former characteristics, it has been announced.

The move has been made possible by a technical change to the academy funding arrangements agreed between the Department for Education and the Church of England. Each type of school would retain its existing arrangements.

A briefing giving details of the move was sent to diocesan education boards, after a meeting at Lambeth Palace last week between the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and bishops and education leaders from every English diocese.

The Revd Nigel Genders, who leads C of E national schools policy, said that the changes would make it possible for community schools that became academies to work structurally with dioceses, making official what has been increasingly happening unofficially since government changes effectively weakened local authorities. It also enables dioceses to look after aided and controlled church schools in the same trust.

Colin Hopkins, director of education at Lichfield, and a former chair of the DDEs' association, said that diocesan education teams would welcome the new arrangements. "This is a pragmatic decision, which will enable local schools to group together and work in partnership," he said.

But the changes would mean more work for education staff, he warned, and would have to be paid for by legally enforceable contracts between the dioceses and the schools involved in the trusts.

Last week's announcement underlines Mr Gove's wish for an expansion in the part played by the Church in education, which was reiterated at the Lambeth meeting last week. The C of E is already the biggest sponsor of academies, and has been taking on underperforming and challenging schools for more than two decades.

At the same time, there has been a growing trend for community schools to affiliate to dioceses, a development deplored by secularist organisations. Mixing community and church schools in church-led academy trusts would extend religious influence over state schools "hugely and irreversibly", Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, said last week.

But the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, chairman of the Board of Education, said that the character of community and controlled schools would be respected. Predicting that many small village schools would want to join the trusts, he promised: "They will be safe with us."

RE reconsidered. Mr Gove's admission at Lambeth Palace last week that religious education might have been an unintended casualty of the Government's significant education reforms, and his promise of "revitalised discussions" with RE experts, have been cautiously welcomed by the RE Council.

The chairman of the Council, John Keast, said: "The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We'd like to see Mr Gove's promises backed up by some positive action to address these issues."

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