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A lesson in school improvement

06 June 2014

Howard Dellar considers the part played by diocesan boards of education in raising standards

THE school-improvement agenda is at the heart of the Department for Education's education policy, and is transforming the way diocesan boards of education (DBEs) interface with their schools.

OFSTED data at the end of June last year rated Church of England schools, primary and secondary, as at least three per cent better than all community schools on overall effectiveness, and the quality of teaching and pupil achievement. No school can become complacent, however, and the OFSTED inspection framework and criteria change frequently.

If standards drop, and a school goes into decline, a diocese has the power to intervene. In the case of church schools (academy or maintained), the DBE and other church bodies must ensure the appointment of appropriate and competent foundation governors.

These governors will require training, and all dioceses must ensure that good appointments are made, and put in place mechanisms to hold their governors to account. DBEs should regularly review the activity and competence of governing bodies.

The governors should set the strategic vision for the school, and hold the head teacher to account for the conduct and standards of the school, besides ensuring that financial resources are well spent.

A SCHOOL or academy with a designated religious character is required to have its denominational RE and worship inspected by the Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools (SIAMS), or other relevant inspection procedure. Inspection can lead to a requirement for actions of various kinds, and the DBE should ensure that these are followed through.

A denominational inspection may also throw up issues, in respect of an academy, that would lead the DBE to seek to persuade the Secretary of State to use his warning and intervention powers. This may be used if an academy refuses to conduct regular acts of worship of a broadly Church of England character.

In voluntary aided and foundation-majority schools, foundation governors must outnumber all other governors by two. This majority can be greater in church-majority academies. The appointing bodies must make sure that they appoint the best candidates. If these turn out to be the wrong people, they must be removed, and new governors appointed in their place. Dioceses have the power to do this, and should use it more often than they have in the past.

If the actual appointing body (for example, a PCC) will not act, then the Bishop or Archdeacon can be invited to push for action. If the problem lies, in part, with a member of the clergy, then the Bishop or Archdeacon might be brought into play, using the Clergy Discipline Measure, and the competency procedures for clergy under Common Tenure.

The power of the Archdeacon to propose removal of a member of the clergy, and replacement by a nominee may be used.

IN VOLUNTARY controlled and foundation-minority schools (and foundation-minority academies), this is more complicated, because the instrument of government does not give dioceses power to appoint all or most foundation governors. The actions above should still be taken, however, even if this means also challenging the non-church governors or directors.

In academies, governors can be removed by those who appointed them. Indeed, in foundation-minority academies, the diocesan member of the academy company (usually the DBE or its umbrella trust) can press for (though not compel) changes of non-church as well as church governors, and should not hesitate to do so if problems are occurring.

DBEs should expect all church academies to hold an annual general meeting, and for the academy-trust company members to be aware of their powers to call for general meetings, to hold the governors to account, and to remove or replace them as required.

AGMs should include relevant reports so that the members can be sure that governors are aware of, and are addressing, any matters that give cause for concern.

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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