*** DEBUG END ***

Education: New tasks for the new Sec­retary of State

23 September 2022

The new Education Secretary has some key legislation to sort out, says Paul Butler


Kit Malthouse, Secretary of State for Education, on the day of his first Cabinet meeting in Downing Street earlier this month

Kit Malthouse, Secretary of State for Education, on the day of his first Cabinet meeting in Downing Street earlier this month

AS Kit Malthouse becomes the fifth person to take up the office of Sec­retary of State for Education in the past 12 months, there is no doubt that he arrives at a time of significant challenge.

The Government’s overall aspira­tion for education is already set out in the White Paper Opportunity For All, with an emphasis on great teachers, strong trusts, and fairer funding. But the context has changed dram­atically, and the in­­­­creas­­ing de­­mand on school budgets caused by escalating energy costs and other inflationary pressures is about to bite hard.

The Church of England, with 4650 schools serving more than one mil­lion children, is the largest educa­tion provider in the country. Our vision to be deeply Christian serving the common good seeks to see every child flourish. By this, we mean experiencing life in its fullness, building skills developing beyond just excel­lent exam results. We want to see our schools continue to excel, not simply in their own right, but to con­­tinue to provide the kind of rounded education which parents value so much.

The past couple of years have been challenging for schools. Swiftly on the heels of the pan­­demic followed a crisis of mental health and well-being, as school leaders reported the impact which disruption had had on children’s development. Responding, we have developed a national network for school leaders focused on issues of children’s mental health.

Now, without significant extra resources, the education system will be unable to cope. The Govern­­ment’s strat­egy cannot be achieved if academy trusts do not have confid­ence about the level of funding avail­able to provide quality education in schools. So, at the top of the new Secretary of State’s to-do list needs to be a commitment to securing the ad­­ditional funding necessary to see through the developments set out in the White Paper.

SO, WHAT does the new legislation mean for C of E schools, and how are we playing our part in shaping the future of educa­tion?

The direction of travel set out is for all schools to join a strong multi-academy trust by 2030. Most im­­portantly, we are working to ensure that, for church schools, the defini­tion of “strong” includes the trust’s effectiveness in delivering educa­tion with a clear Christian vision.

Currently, one third of Church of England schools are academies. In order for the remaining two-thirds to be supported to embrace the change, we have sought assurances of sufficient statutory safeguards to secure the religious character of our schools for the future.

Academies have evolved within a contractual framework between the Secretary of State and each indi­­vidual academy trust through a fund­ing agreement. That system was designed with the expectation that there would only be a couple of hundred academies in total. But in a fully trust-based system, more than 20,000 schools will eventually be academies, so individual contracts will become too unwieldy. One of the aims of the current Schools Bill is therefore to bring a firmer statutory basis and greater regulation to the system.

Following widespread resistance to this move, the first 18 clauses of the Bill have been withdrawn in the Lords to allow further work. They will come back in its next iteration in a way which will ensure the scope of those regulations is more narrowly defined, along with a duty to consult.

Our experience with the DfE throughout the passage of the Bill has been positive. They have clari­fied and amended the Bill based on our suggestions and are committed to regulations that ensure the gov­­ern­ance arrangements for Church of England academies, the provision of religious education and collective worship, and the statutory role of the Diocesan Board of Education as the appropriate reli­gious authority for Church of England schools are all safeguarded for the future.

We have welcomed this, as it gives our schools greater confidence that their Christian character can be safe­­guarded into the future, remov­ing barriers for church schools to be­­come academies.

On this basis, we are encouraging all church schools to embrace the development of strong diocesan and church-school-led academy trusts. We hope that Mr Malthouse will ensure that this work is completed to give us clarity and confidence about the future.

WE HAVE heard some concerns over the status of the land on which church schools are provided. His­­toric­ally, church-school site trustees in the maintained sector have had their charitable interest in school sites protected through a process of statutory transfer when, for example, a school moves site or extends its footprint on to local authority pro­­vided land.

The Bill ensures that, when acad­emies with a historic foundation re­­­locate to a new site, the education en­­­­dowment on which the school is established is safeguarded. Unlike other maintained provisions relating to the expansion of existing sites, or where land is publicly funded, however, this will not be transferred and will continue to be accounted for elsewhere within the academies framework.

Before church schools convert to academy status it has always been, and remains, vitally important that any outstanding land transfers are dealt with, and all details relating to land clearly understood and docu­mented. Nothing in this changes the position for maintained schools, as the clause only applies to schools that are already academies.

THE history of the National Society is one of continual negotiation with government. When local educa­tion authorities were created in the 1940s, the National Society en­­­­sured that Diocesan Boards of Education were established to enable engagement and partnership.

As the system reconfigures be­­yond 2030, local authorities will no longer be maintaining schools in the same way, and the new landscape will be one where multi-academy trusts (MATs) are the primary unit through which education is delivered. Dioceses need to keep work­­ing to find new ways to work in partner­ship with them.

MATs will in­­creasingly grow be­­yond local or dio­cesan boundaries; so dioceses will need to collaborate and work wisely in partnership across a region.

The next few years will be vitally important for the Church’s pro­­vision of education. We cannot ex­­­pect the system to wait or be held back by our struc­tures and boundaries, and will only be able to secure the future of Church schools as we are willing to adapt continually, as we have always done, to shape our response to this new reality.

The Rt Revd Paul Butler is the Bishop of Durham and the Church of England’s lead bishop for education.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)