Agreement reached on responsibility for church schools

22 April 2016

PA

Attentive: the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, listens during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, on Wednesday

Attentive: the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, listens during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, on Wednesday

AN AGREEMENT between the Government and Church of England education officers which will underpin the implementation of the new Education and Adoption Act was published on Tuesday. The new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the National Society and the Department for Education, with its commitment to the long-standing Church-State partnership in the provision of schools, comes after several months of bargaining between C of E negotiators and education Ministers and their officials.

Crucially, the agreement puts responsibility for educational standards and the religious ethos of church schools, and their conversion to academies, firmly in the hands of diocesan boards of education. No school will be able to convert to academy status without the permission of its diocese, or without providing convincing plans to maintain its C of E character.

Moreover, the MoU requires the regional schools commissioners, who exercise overall control of education in their domains on behalf of the Secretary of State, to work with diocesan education staff and site trustees according to clear protocols where church schools are concerned. It also creates a role for the national Education Office where differing ways forward for individual schools cannot be agreed locally.

The Church’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said that the agreement provided a secure basis for maintaining the character of church schools, and clarifies the working relationship between dioceses and the regional schools commissioners.

“I am confident that while the education landscape is undergoing great change, the MoU will secure the identity and ethos of our schools for the future,” he said. The agreement would be the Church’s basis for negotiations over legislation that flowed from the recent White Paper, he said. The Paper envisages the conversion of all schools to academies over the next six years. Although this aim is being widely challenged, among Conservative local-government leaders and others, protests are not expected to do more than moderate the direction of travel.

In practice, church education chiefs will already be shaping their template for the best deal for dioceses and their schools. They are likely to press Ministers to translate into legislation in the next Education Bill the generous terms that the Government has agreed to in the Memorandum. Non-statutory agreements are, of course, open to change. The new MoU itself is scheduled for annual review, and changes to its provisions could come into effect as early as September 2017. Statutes, on the other hand, are more durable.

The new MoU was expected to be added to the agenda of a meeting of diocesan directors of education at Church House, Westminster, on Wednesday, previously arranged to discuss the White Paper. The diocesan director of education (DDE) for Rochester and chairman of the DDEs’ association, Alex Tear, praised what had been achieved in negotiations, and said that the document confirmed the Government’s acceptance of the Church as a key player in the education system.

“The Memorandum underlines the importance of diocesan families of schools working together and, crucially, of safeguarding the Christian character of our schools as they become academies.”

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