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General Synod: Diocesan boards of education

12 July 2019

Madeleine Davies, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in York

A DRAFT Measure seeking to bring diocesan boards of education up to date received first consideration on Friday afternoon.

Introducing the debate on the Draft Diocesan Boards of Education Measure, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, said that, since the last Diocesan Boards of Education (DBE) Measure had been passed in 1991, there had been significant changes to the educational landscape in England. After a broad consultation, it had been decided, therefore, to simplify and modernise the powers and governance of DBEs.

The biggest changes were to how DBEs could be constituted. Previously, they had either to be incorporated as companies or charities, or to be unincorporated. Now, a third option was being written into the legislation, reflecting commonplace practice: to allow a DBE to be a formal statutory committee of the diocesan board of finance (DBF). The draft Measure also provided for dioceses to create shared DBEs across boundaries, which has already happened in one instance. Another addition was to require DBEs to have “due regard” to guidance from the Archbishops’ Council.

Rosemary Lyon (Blackburn) noted how, even since 2010, the educational landscape had changed enormously, with the explosion in academies and multi-academy trusts (MATs). “These proposals seem to be eminently sensible,” she said. “Please support this.”

Betty Renshaw (Chester) said that, as a longstanding member of Chester DBE and chair of the diocesan MAT, she supported the draft Measure. There needed to be greater flexibility and engagement to ensure that church schools remained “effective, distinctive, and inclusive”.

Canon Robert Cotton (Guildford) raised concerns about DBEs’ being subsumed into DBFs, and said that he was anxious that boards of finance could impose education policy for the whole diocese. Church culture needed to learn from school culture, he suggested.

Nigel Bacon (Lincoln) welcomed the draft Measure, but asked for assurances that the “rigour of governance that emerges” will be adequate for Lincoln diocese’s needs.

Gillian de Berry (Salisbury) said that many schools in Salisbury diocese were small, and a quarter of them had fewer than 100 pupils. The draft Measure was vital to protecting these “vulnerable schools”.

The Revd Wyn Beynon (Worcester) supported the draft Measure, but expressed concerns about the requirement for DBEs to have due regard to guidance from the Archbishops’ Council. The requirement could create unhelpful complexity, he suggested.

Responding to the debate, Bishop Conway said that, if the DBE was a statutory committee, the DBF would not be able simply to “ride roughshod” over the needs of children. And “Due regard does not mean you have to slavishly follow [guidance], but you do have to record and take advice about why you disagree with following guidance in any particular area,” he said.

The draft Measure was referred to the revision committee.

THE Archbishop of York set out the background to some proposed changes to Standing Orders. Among them was one that the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) send forward one name to the Prime Minister. This was carried, as was the second, which would allow the CNC, if it wished, to send on a second name should the first choice be unable to take up the post.

Geoffrey Tattersall (Manchester) then laid out other proposed changes, relating to the grounds for appeal on elections from the Synod to the CNC. He said that, although David Lamming’s amendments were not strictly necessary, he was happy to accept them, because they were intended to augment his own committee’s proposals.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) moved his amendments, which were carried.

April Alexander (Southwark) said that it was her appeal in 2017 that had led to these changes to the Standing Orders. Her hope was to change the rules so that one could launch an appeal on the grounds that a candidate had not disclosed all relevant information about themselves and their interests. She accepted, however, that the Church House legal team was right in assessing that this was not possible.

Other ways to achieve the same effect would be to move to hustings by email as some dioceses already did, and maybe hold elections in the Synod in person. “We need to ensure in all Synod elections and in the dioceses we insist that candidates can no longer stand without declaring their trusteeships and directorships, their loyalties and affiliations.”

Mr Tattersall replied that he had done the best that he could, for the moment, as the lawyers had indeed told them that Ms Alexander’s intentions could be achieved only through legislation, not Standing Orders. If there were further amendments, that was fine, but for now the Synod needed a system that could at least have a more robust framework for dealing with appeals.

Mr Tattersall’s amended motion was carried.

DRAFT Amending Canon No. 39 had, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said, gained the royal assent and licence on 24 June, and was enacted. Among other things, it relaxes the canonical requirements for morning and evening prayer in parish churches, and holy communion in parish churches on Sundays.

THE Synod’s farewells were made on Tuesday morning.

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, led a farewell to Andrew Brown, the Secretary to the Church Commissioners, who will retire in February. Mr Brown joined the Commissioners in 1994, soon after the huge losses incurred in the early 1990s. He had made structural changes and supported his colleagues as they had turned a nadir into a long success story, and had become secretary in 2003, Dr Walker said.

He paid tribute to his changes and reforms in drawing the Church’s national investing bodies together and building a stronger relationship between the Commissioners and the Synod. The common denominator in all his work was an appreciation of partnership and continued good humour in doing the right thing, even when it was not the most popular thing. He would be a “hard act to follow” as a “superb colleague and admirable man”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury bade farewell to the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Frith. There was “something deeply suspicious” about him. “I could find no scandal, no dark arts, no deep suspicious stories at all.” John le Carré would suggest that this indicated that he was a double agent. He had “just done what priests and bishops should do all the way through his time in ordination, and he has done it remarkably well and with great impact”.

He had become Bishop of Hereford in 2014. “In those years, he had as much impact as most of us amongst the House of Bishops would like to have had in many years.” The Archbishop paid tribute to his “wonderful, quiet, effective work” across the diocese, and his clear leadership and discipleship. He had shown that he loved people and that he wanted the Church to flourish. His wife, Kay, had played as great a part. The Bishop had a sense of humour and had recently had a role in the TV series about the diocese. He would be deeply missed. His ministry spanned “a significant period of our life as a Church”. His reflections on this were important gifts.

Read full coverage of the General Synod here

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