THE Church of England is attempting to clarify its rights over church schools when the Education and Adoption Bill becomes law next year.
At present, there is uncertainty over the position of diocesan boards of education when, under a provision in the Bill, an inadequate school can be forcibly transferred to academy status under a different provider.
The Government has strongly resisted amendments to the Bill, which is intended to speed up the improvement of schools that are giving cause for concern. This will be achieved, the Government argues, by giving Ministers the right to force failing schools to become academies, and circumvent local consultation and objections that have hitherto delayed the process.
Instead of being secured in legislation, the Church’s position will be set out in a Memorandum of Understanding associated with the Bill.
Announced in the House of Commons by the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, and in the House of Lord by the Academies Minister, Lord Nash, the Memorandum is intended to secure the part played by the Church in place of an amendment to the Bill.
Under the terms of the Memorandum, dioceses would secure the right to consultation over the conversion of a church school, including a say over the choice of academy sponsor. What is not clear, at present, is what happens in the case of disagreement, especially when most church-school property is owned by church trustees.
C of E Education Office officials are currently negotiating the final text of the Memorandum with the Department for Education. In a blog this week, triggered by a Guardian opinion piece, the C of E’s Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, wrote that the Memorandum should safeguard adequately the C of E character of any church school forced to convert.
"In any circumstances, church schools must be allowed to operate with the same ethos and emphasis. They can’t just dispense with the essential C of E character. . . Details must be ironed out to allow children to have access to effective education in a C of E school."
Last month, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, who chairs the Board of Education, told the House of Lords that, in most cases, the improvement of inadequate church schools should be undertaken by dioceses.
Speaking during the Second Reading of the Bill, he said: "I have been reassured by statements made in other places about the way in which church schools, diocesan bodies, and MATS [Multi-Academy Trusts] will be the solution to the majority of cases when it comes to looking at schools that need improvement. . .
"I say that, not because we want to delay the improvement of any school, but because it is our conviction that we want our schools to support each other in excellence. We are not seeking to retreat from rigour, but we want to work as one family with one underpinning philosophy."
The Memorandum, he said, would be an essential guide for the Government’s regional schools commissioners, who would be closely involved in decisions taken to ensure school improvement.
C of E school named as top primary Meanwood Church of England Primary School, in Leeds, founded in 1848, has been named by The Sunday Times as its State Primary School of the Year (above). The accolade puts it first among the 20,000-plus primary schools in England.
"We’re completely bowled over," the head teacher, Helen Sanderson, said this week. "This wasn’t a competition we entered but a decision made purely on data — on results, basically."
The 210 pupils are socially and ethnically mixed. Many enter with below-average achievement, and OFSTED inspectors, who rated the school "Outstanding", praised the results achieved by children from low-income families, and those with special needs Meanwood also has a strong choral tradition, and has won a BBC Radio 6 school-choir award.
The school’s success, Mrs Sanderson said, was due to the commitment of teaching staff, and everyone associated with the school. The church-school inspectorate SIAMS gave Meanwood top marks.
The Bishop of West Yorkshire & the Dales, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said that it was "a marvellous example of the Christian ethos at work".