AS EDUCATION lawyers specialising in church schools, we offer
here our personal "Yes Minister/No Minister" list for Nicky
Yes Minister: please reaffirm the fundamental principles of the
1944 settlement: a partnership between the Churches (and now a
range of other religious and secular bodies) and the State in
providing schools. The Churches are your partners, not a set of
delivery agencies under your control. Respect the partnership and
make it work.
At the heart of that partnership are the church trustees who
provide charitably one third of all schools sites in England. So,
Yes Minister, protect them, as successive governments have done
since 1944 by legislating to bring church site trusts for academies
within the same statutory framework as those for voluntary schools.
This especially affects extended or new sites (when church
academies expand or move), and the sites for Free Schools. The
present lack of legislation distances and disadvantages site
trustees and dioceses, and threatens the character of church
academies. It undermines the partnership.
Site trusts safeguard the religious character of church schools
and academies. But recently, for the first time, the Secretary of
State has removed a Church of England academy from the list of
schools designated as having a religious character without first
closing the academy in question, thus bringing the site trust (or,
in this particular case, the academy trust, which is also a trust
with a religious character) to an end.
We do not believe that it can be lawful to remove designation
while the conditions that require designation still subsist. No
Minister, do not attempt to change legislation to make
de-designation just an administrative decision on your part.
Ever since 1944, it has been impossible for maintained schools
to gain or lose a religious character without closing and
reopening. Any attempt to change this will represent a grave danger
to the partnership.
IN THE same vein, No Minister, do not attempt to legislate to
extend your powers to direct what should be done with private,
charitable trustee land over the heads of the trustees. That, too,
will change the partnership into a controlled-delivery
Church of England site trusts are education trusts (not
ecclesiastical trusts), and are normally specific to an individual
school in a named parish or wider area. As such, they are permanent
parts of the nation's educational assets unless and until the
school is closed. Then they become available to support other
existing church schools, or to help create new ones. They represent
a huge capital asset, and are the living sign of the working
Yes Minister, provide a proper legislative basis for capital
investment in schools.
The statutory powers and responsibilities that have worked well
in grant regimes since 1944 are being ignored and overridden.
Please route significant church school and academy capital finance
through the mechanisms that have worked well for voluntary aided
schools. There is a strong statutory framework for this: use it,
AND, Yes Minister, bring the governance of academies more within
statute as well. At the moment, academies are mainly governed not
by statute (as maintained schools are), but by contracts - the
Funding Agreement and the associated Academies Financial
But these are constantly changed unilaterally by the Education
Funding Agency (EFA), and are becoming more and more instruments of
control rather than true contracts between partner organisations.
Nor does the EFA appear really to understand the difference between
operating under statute, and operating by contract.
So, Yes Minister, let us have some legislation that modernises
the 1944 settlement, but of a kind that carries forward the 1944
principles of partnership into the academies era; that enables site
trustees to play a continuing constructive part; and that ensures
that C of E schools and academies are here to stay.
Howard Dellar is Head of the education, ecclesiastical, and
charities department at Lee Bolton Monier-Williams.