Education and Adoption Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Bishop of Ely, Chair of the National Society Council and Lead Bishop on Education in the House of Lords. (EAB06)

 

Summary

· This submission is made by the Bishop of Ely, Chair of the National Society Council which speaks on behalf of the Church of England’s education function nationally.

· The Church of England supports and welcomes the Bill’s aim of raising standards in schools but does not believe that sponsored academies provide the only solution where schools are failing.

· We are concerned that there should be full consultation with Dioceses and school trustees before decisions are taken on interventions in coasting or inadequate schools.

· The Church urges that the new legislation as well as any associated guidance and regulations recognise and support the protection of the religious character and ethos of Church schools.

Education and Adoption Bill

Consultation on use of intervention powers

1. The Church of England urges that Parliament, in considering the Bill, notes the church’s role, commitment and track record, and ensures that the legislation, any supporting regulations and guidance explicitly recognises the importance of Diocesan families of church schools and the legal duty of Dioceses and school trustees to protect and develop the religious character of those schools.

2. We welcome the requirement to consult with Dioceses and school trustees on the identity of any sponsor but would wish to see clear statutory guidance that ensures that Dioceses and school trustees can fulfil their legal duties around religious character.

3. We would also urge that the new powers for the Secretary of State to establish Interim Executive Boards should take into account the religious character of any church school.

Duty to make an Academy order

4. The Church of England’s Education Office has reviewed the provisions of the Bill and understands that the Secretary of State is committed to raising standards as quickly as possible in all schools. It notes however that the Bill removes her discretion to decide that there may be a solution to improve a school rated 4 by Ofsted, other than issuing an Academy order. We believe that academy conversion may not always be the best solution in the light of local circumstances.

5. Many of the church’s schools are very small (fewer than 100 on roll). While local circumstances may require that the school continues in existence, it may be difficult for that school to operate within a corporate model (even within a group of schools) with the attendant risks of insolvency. In these situations we suggest that joining a federation of maintained schools (i.e. schools that are not academies) may be a more financially viable solution and still lead to the necessary improvement in standards. Many examples of where such a route has been successful can be found in the Diocese of Norwich, which has a lot of very small rural schools. The Trinity Federation has four small schools, three were previously ‘Requires Improvement’ or borderline ‘Special Measures’. Those schools are now rated ‘Good’ and the other school, which was rated ‘Good’, is now ‘Outstanding’. This rating was given partly because of what it was contributing to the federation as well as what it was receiving from it.

6. The provisions of Clause 4 introduce a new power for the Secretary of State to require schools to enter into arrangements including contractual arrangements for advice and federations with other schools. Thus it would be possible for her to use this power to achieve the result referred to in the previous paragraph if she retained the discretion not to make an academy order in respect of schools rated 4 by Ofsted.

The Church of England’s involvement in education

7. The Church of England has a strong network of schools. There are 4,700 schools distributed across the country (around 25% of all schools educating 20% of children). Of these 4,500 are primary schools and 200 are secondary. A little over 500 are now academies.

8. On the basis of the statistics currently available 75% of Church of England secondary schools are rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding' by Ofsted. That is 4% higher than the national average for non-Church of England schools. And 84% of Church of England primary schools are rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding' by Ofsted, which is 3% higher than the national average for non-Church of England schools.

9. The Church of England is organised into Dioceses, each under the care of a Diocesan Bishop. Each Diocese also has a Diocesan Board of Education (also under the care and oversight of the Diocesan Bishop) and a Diocesan Director of Education who take responsibility for the church schools in the Dioceses. There are 40 such boards.

10. The church has worked constructively as a partner of the state since the state began to establish its own schools and that cooperation continues to be evident. Where schools wish to convert to academy status this will generally be supported (subject to conditions around the preservation of the religious character of the school) and where an academy solution seems the best way to improve standards in a school, the church works with the Department for Education to identify a way forward that will protect the ethos of the school as well as securing an improvement in the standard of education.

The Church of England’s involvement in the academy programme

11. The Academies Act 2010 made clear the government’s requirement that all schools should ensure that children are receiving a good education and the church has responded to this by monitoring the effectiveness of its schools and taking active steps to improve that effectiveness. This has been supported both by grant funding from the Department for Education (the Sponsor Capacity Grant) and by the commitment of additional funds by the church locally to enable the initial development of local capacity to support its schools. Indeed the monitoring and support of school effectiveness was something that certain Dioceses (e.g. London and Southwark) were already engaged in prior to 2010. While the formal intervention powers rest with Local Authorities and the Secretary of State, Dioceses work with both parties to support improvement in their schools where intervention is required.

12. The church schools in each Diocese are a key part of the church family in that area and while the church also engages with and supports non-church schools (often through the presence of parish priests on community school governing bodies and/or through regular pastoral support from the clergy) it is important that the coherence of that family is retained and the religious character of the schools maintained and developed. That religious character is not optional but a key element of the foundation of the school.

13. In most Dioceses there is a mix of voluntary aided (church majority on the governing body) and voluntary controlled schools (church minority on the governing body). Model documentation has been developed to permit mixed models of multi-academy trusts so that schools of different characters can be linked in groups to support each other. It is clearly the case however that any voluntary aided school should only form part of a grouping where there is a church majority at the highest level of governance. In a MAT this will mean at member (‘shareholder’) and director level. Similarly, there must be church representation at member and director level (albeit in a minority) for any MAT containing voluntary controlled schools.

14. Many Dioceses have established Diocesan-led multi-academy trusts to promote cooperation and support between their schools and to ensure the maintenance of the church character and ethos of those schools in a way that will survive changes of personnel into the future.

15. Diocesan Directors of Education and their teams seek to work constructively with the Regional Schools Commissioners to ensure the best education for the children in their care. Particular examples of how this can work well can be found firstly in the Diocese of Ely, where the Diocesan multi-academy trust currently contains 15 primary schools and is likely to be 20 strong by the end of the year. The MAT contains an almost equal mix of good schools and those that are less strong and the strength of the good schools is leveraged to support the others and transform performance. The policy of the Diocesan Board of Education in Ely is that any school that becomes an academy will only do so by joining the Diocesan MAT. In the Diocese of Bath and Wells the Diocesan Board of Education has a different model (also supported by the RSC) where schools are generally expected to join the Diocesan MAT, church school led MATs, or a church school federation.

16. The church is committed to continuing to play a significant role in education in this country based on the schools in its care and their continuing religious character. In order to do this it recognises that careful strategic planning is required to meet the challenge of the change in the way in which schools are organised, supported and funded. This ensures the management of change in a sustainable way. While the church also wishes to play its part as a good neighbour working with academies and schools other than church schools, its ability to plan strategically and therefore contribute constructively to children’s education, would be undermined without continued cooperative working between RSCs and Diocesan Directors. This cooperative approach (as demonstrated so well in the Eastern Region and in the South West as mentioned above) means that the church can use the capacity of its family of schools to support each other in raising standards while properly preserving their religious character.

July 2015

Prepared 2nd July 2015