A DRAFT of the new Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and the Church of England Education Office is to be presented to diocesan directors of education (DDEs) this month, at a series of “roadshows” planned by the Department for Education (DfE).
Senior DfE officials, with Education Office representatives, will hold meetings with DDEs around the country to discuss the Memorandum, which is intended to secure the religious status of Church of England schools after the Education and Adoption Bill becomes law.
The Third Reading of the Bill was due to take place yesterday; the Royal Assent is expected before Easter. Discussions on the Memorandum, however, are expected to continue after the parliamentary progress of the Bill is completed, taking account of comments that emerge during the diocesan roadshows.
The provisions of the Bill promote early intervention in the case of failing, or “coasting”, schools and academies, with the likelihood of forced academisation of a school, or a change of sponsor in the case of an academy. DDEs had expressed concern about how the designation and ethos of a C of E school would be ensured in the rare case of a proposal that a C of E school should become part of a mainly non-faith-led multi-academy trust.
DDEs had also asked for clear guidelines to be given to Regional School Commissioners (RSCs) working with church schools, an issue that was highlighted in a report last month from the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education. The report referred to Education Office evidence that DDEs whose dioceses covered a number of RSCs territories, had complained of inconsistencies.
At the Report Stage of the Bill in December, however, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, who chairs the National Society, withdrew an amendment that addressed concerns over church schools affected by the Bill because of progress in negotiations with the Government.
“I am content, following conversation with the Minister [Lord Nash], that he agrees that ethos and character can be maintained and should be safeguarded effectively,” Bishop Conway said.
In the same debate, Lord Nash outlined additional safeguards to be included in the Memorandum: “When a Church of England school joins a non-faith-led trust, we intend to insert the following within the trust’s articles of association: a faith object which requires the Trust to ensure that the Church of England character of the church school is maintained; an entrenchment clause that requires written consent of the diocese for changes to articles relating to the maintenance of the school’s religious character . . . (and) a requirement that members and trustees are appointed to provide proportionate diocesan representation on the MAT [multi-academy trust].”
He also promised that the Government would ensure that RSCs would work closely with dioceses and comply with the terms of the Memorandum.
This week, the C of E’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said that negotiations on the Memorandum so far had been very effective: “We are pleased with the progress made in guaranteeing clarity and consistency of approach to church schools.”
The roadshows helped to create an understanding of how RSCs would work with dioceses, he said.