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Education: This should protect all the stakeholders

by
20 September 2013

A new model has been developed to allow church voluntary controlled schools to become academies, says Howard Dellar

CHURCH voluntary controlled (VC) schools are now able to convert to academy status with neighbouring community schools under a new company model for a multi-academy trust (MAT) which protects their church foundation.

The new company model has been agreed with the Charity Commissioners, and also with the Department for Education (DfE). The pressure for such a model came from several dioceses, including Birmingham and Oxford, that already have relevant projects under way.

The model has been structured to achieve the right balance of power to protect the different types of schools joining the academy company. As it has been designed specifically for VC schools, the new model only gives the church a minority interest in the governance of the company, but church protection is clear.

It requires the company to follow Diocesan Board Of Education (DBE) directives in respect of the church school; DBE consent is required for co-option to the board of directors, and the diocesan director of education must approve the appointment of the principal of the church academy. Importantly, the model itself cannot be changed without the church member's approval.

The model's simplified ownership structure requires only four directors, one of whom must represent the church, and could be drawn from the the DBE, or its umbrella trust, or the diocesan board of finance, or even the bishop, if that is the diocese's practice.

The church can appoint one quarter of both members and directors, and the DfE has indicated that there should always be at least two church directors and one church member.

There is, as in all the latest DfE-approved MAT models, no concept of directors being appointed because they chair school governing bodies.

Uniquely in the church model, one of the owners of the company must always chair the company's AGM.

The new model is not suitable as it stands for voluntary aided (VA) schools - whose natural home is the Church Majority Multi-Academy Trust, agreed with the DfE last year, where control lies with church bodies.

A word of caution: avoid disruption of the Trust wording in local negotiations - the DfE is unlikely to accept substantial changes. The National Society's wise advice is: "Stick to the model."

 

Howard Dellar is head of the ecclesiastical, education and charities department at Lee Bolton Monier-Williams and Secretary of the Ecclesiastical Law Society.

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