ON WEDNESDAY morning, the General Synod gave final approval to the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure.
The Measure provides the framework for dioceses to work with church schools and government bodies, and creates a new constitutional structure for diocesan boards of education (DBE). These are expected either to be incorporated (set up through a charitable company structure), or unincorporated, and can also be constituted as a statutory committee of the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF). The Measure was expected to come into force on 1 January 2022 to coincide with the next triennium for those elected to serve on DBEs, but has suffered delays.
The Dean of the Arches, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, emphasised the importance of drafting “well-done guidance to making structural decisions, so that the legal consequences are understood”.
The Synod took note of the Steering Committee’s report.
Four special amendments to Clause 23, delaying the date when the Measure would come into force (from 1 January 2022 to 1 January 2023), were taken en bloc, and carried by the Synod. This would give dioceses sufficient time to implement a scheme that had been delayed by the pandemic. The amendments would also ensure transitional provision for elected members to DBEs.
Introducing the final-approval debate, Professor Muriel Robinson (Lincoln) commended the legal framework. The key changes were in how the boards were structured, she explained, with the introduction of a statutory committee of the DBF. There was no need to make changes if things were working well, however. Unincorporation was a recognised legal status in charity law, she continued, but there must be awareness of drawbacks and attention to the guidelines.
The impact of Covid-19 was even more important where unincorporated status was maintained. “Be aware of risks and take appropriate steps to mitigate them,” she advised. The Measure reflected current and future educational environments and enabled dioceses to update their practices and to give increasing support to schools. It would improve the effectiveness of DBEs, she said.
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who is the lead bishop on education and chairs the National Society, said that the Measure was an important part of the C of E’s partnership with the State in education. It was an opportunity to affirm and consolidate the way in which DBEs operated and enabled effective modernisation. He welcomed its pragmatic approach in not imposing a costly change of status, and applauded the efforts of DBEs, head teachers, school staff, and others. “We need this, and we need it now.”
Christina Baron (Bath & Wells), speaking on behalf of the Bishop of Taunton, particularly commended the chaplaincies operating in multi-academy trusts (MATs) for their engagement with church schools and households. The Measure offered a far more relevant approach and enabled DBEs to engage effectively with all their stakeholders, she said.
In his maiden speech, John Naylor (Lichfield) lamented that only 24 members had been in the chamber at the revision stage in February. The option to be a sub-committee of the DBF would enable work to be better joined up, and pupils in the church schools would be better served, he said.
Elizabeth Paver (Sheffield) said that the 1991 Measure was not fit for its purpose in 2020. She commended the meticulous work done by the steering committee and the Business Committee. “It will serve well.” DBEs would now flourish, she said.
Clive Scowen (London) emphasised the importance of getting the Measure through.
Debrah McIsaac (Salisbury) said that the legislation was inadequate and that the Synod should be reluctant to vote for it.
Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) also expressed concern that there were too many options, and the organisation would be too large. “There is an opportunity here to rethink.”
Dr Rachel Jepson (Birmingham) said that the legislation was “all about ensuring light-touch, effective systems. This will help us to focus on the main task.”
The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) said: “It is bad law. I cannot support it.”
The Archdeacon of Totnes, the Ven. Douglas Dettmer (Exeter), said that simplification was about effectiveness and pragmatism. He urged support.
Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) assured the Synod that all due diligence had been done, and that it was too late to be asking to defeat a Measure at this stage. “Don’t put the brakes on it,” he urged.
Final approved was given in a vote by Houses: Bishops 29 nem. con.; Clergy 114-12 with eight recorded abstentions; Laity 122-22 with four recorded abstentions.
Click here for more reports from the November General Synod, held via Zoom last week