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Mixed reception for new documentation on Church and state relationship in education

22 September 2023

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CHURCH of England education officials have welcomed the Government’s new Model Articles of Association, which sit alongside an updated national Memorandum of Understanding, as a recognition of the historic relationship between Church and State in education. They describe it as a move that offers “broad and expansive hope” for the development of church multi-academy trusts (MATs) “in a way that suits the local and regional context”.

But the new model documents, published on Monday, have also raised significant concerns. Writing in the Church Times this week, Howard Dellar, who is senior partner and head of the ecclesiastical and education department at Lee Bolton Monier-Williams, describes some of the changes as “exceedingly unwise”, and warned that the new model articles represent a sea change into “very choppy waters”.

One key change is the removal of Single Academy Trust Clauses to support the growth of MATs. Another is that there is now one consolidated model Article of Association, predicated on a majority governance structure, with flexibility to adapt governance provisions according to diocesan policy; previously, there were two separate models for majority and minority C of E governance, reflecting the difference in context between schools converting from voluntary aided and voluntary controlled status.

There are now references in the new documentation to the diocesan academisation strategy. The new model articles also now allow for MATs that operate in multiple dioceses. In addition, an optional Community Object is included, so that academy trusts can raise income through making facilities available for public use and/or public benefit.

In response to the publication, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said that academy trusts continued to grow in strategic importance in the provision of education. “Our Academy Trusts work best in strong strategic partnerships with Diocesan Boards of Education. The embedding of the diocesan strategy in these core documents offers a broad and expansive hope for the development of Church of England MATs in a way that suits the local and regional context, giving strength and capacity through strong relationships, and helping to ensure good outcomes for children and young people.”

But Mr Dellar writes that the changes will put “considerable pressure” on diocesan boards of education. “The wording of the Memorandum of Understanding substantially enhances the part played by the DBE in academy conversions, and in the conduct, development, or assessment of existing MATs,” he writes. “In part, this corrects a perhaps too national emphasis in the previous MoU but in part also has an impact on the already imperilled autonomy of academy trusts themselves.”

Specifically, he highlights two “significant changes” that give cause for concern: the first concerning the impact on the trust deeds that underlie almost all Church of England schools. “It is difficult to see any positive reason for this, leaving us concerned that the result is a further reduction in the part played by, and impact of, these trusts and their trustees, which I have already noted in the new site transfer arrangements agreed with the National Society, and currently included in the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill.”

The second issue that he raises concerns the delegation of powers. “The important concept of the diocesan corporate member in academy trusts has been changed so as (a) to require the formal delegation of some of its powers by the DBE to the DCM; and (b) so as to leave certain DBE powers outside the scope of the DCM, and consequently exercised from outside the academy company,” he writes.

“Both these changes appear to me to be exceedingly unwise, and I wonder why they were thought necessary.”

Read Howard Dellar’s Comment piece on the new Model Articles of Association here

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