Education and Adoption Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Southwark Diocesan Board of Education (SDBE) (EAB 18)

1 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

1.1 T he evidence is being submitted by the SDBE on behalf of th e 106 schools in the Diocese .

1.2 T he SDB E supports the aim of the Bill to raise standards in education ; however , we do not support the mandatory conversion of schools into sponsored academies as the only solution to inadequate schools .

1.3 We believe it is essential that consultation is undertaken with the appropriate diocese and school trustees before determining any action to tackle coasting or inadequate schools.

1.4 We welcome the provision in the Bill requiring consultation of the Diocese and school trustees if there is a need to determine an academy sponsor.

2 INTRODUCTION

2.1 The SDBE supports 106 Church of England School in the Dioc ese across 12 Local Authorities education 37,000 pupils. 88% of t he schools are currently rated ‘g ood or better . The SDBE has a strong established track record of delivering school improvement in a variety of forms which includes working with other partners.

2.2 This Diocese , with others , is a long-term strategic partner with the State in the provisi on of schools, in conjunction with the National Society.

2.3 Given the Church’s investmen t and historic stake in Chu rch of E ngland schools, dioceses and school trustees have the expertise and the mandate to make informed decisions regarding standards in our schools.

3 SECTIONS 2, 4,5 & 6 - IMPORTANCE OF CONSULTATION RELATING TO INTERVENTION POWERS

3.1 The Bill grants greater powers of intervention to the Secretary of State in a range of circumstances. The intention is that these powers, and existing rarely used powers of the Secretary of State, will become routinely used by the new Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs).

3.2 These powers lack the safeguards associated with similar powers used by local aut horities, but may well become widely used by the RSCs. We have already seen variability in approaches by RSC’s across Diocesan Boards of Education which could lead to a lack of consistency in the implementation of the Bill and equity for schools .

3.3 We are concerned that the powers given to the new RSCs may cut across existing working practice. Local authorities and Department for Education officials who currently make decisions about school support understand the dioceses’ and trustees’ legal duties to preserve an d develop the Christian character of their school . They also understand the capacity of our Diocesan Board of Education to deliver school improvement and support a range of school activities. Many academy c hain s have little or no experience of Church of England Schools and do not understand their legal status.

3.4 In particular we are concerned about new powers granted to RSCs under Section 5 of the Bill. Usually an IEB is put in place following discussion between the local authority and the diocese, with carefully considered agreements as to its operation, includi ng in relation to its members and how the Christian character of the school will be preserved. This enables the school to continue to comply with its trust deed through a Church appointed majority on the IEB. Our concern is that an RSC would unintentionally cut across this established arrangement.

3.5 Therefore, it is important that the Bill, and associated regulations and guidance, explicitly recognize the legal duties that dioceses and schools’ truste es have to preserve the Christian character of their schools and explain how they will continue to be able to carry out these duties if subject to an academy order under the new legislation.

3.6 The SDBE has evidence to show that a range of strategies can be used to bring about the rapid improvement required to move a school from Inadequate to G ood within a reasonable timescale in order that systems and structures become embedded for long term sustainability. The conversion of a school to an academy is just one of these strategies.

4 SECTION 7 - DUTY TO MAKE AN ACADEMY ORDER

4.1 In the case of an inadequate school the Secretary of State must make an Academy order (Section 7). We are concerned that the Secretary of State is removing her discretion to consider alternative options that might be more appropriate for local circumstances. The word must should be change d to ‘ may ’ in the context of Church of England Schools to support the notion of full consultation with the Diocese. The same should be true for Maintained schools .

4.2 We agree that in a few situations academy conversion with a sponsor or as part of a multi-academy trust can be effective to support a school to raise educatio nal standards. However, in most circumstance there may be other solutions that are more educationally effective which we can evidence across the SDBE.

4.3 Sometimes, it will be inappropriate or practically challenging for an inadequate school to become an academy especially in terms of going through structural change at a time when the school needs to focus on the core business of teaching and learning. It may also be the case that new leadership is secured within a short time frame of a school being judged ‘inadequate’ and that this will bring about the rapid change required. Again the SDBE has evidence of this.

4.4 There are many examples where the diocese has drawn on its expertise to successful ly raise standards in a Church of England school using interventions other than an academy conversion e.g. entering into a federation with a strong school, replacing a Governing Body with an IEB, replacing a Headteacher with an exemplary leader, putting a rigorous structure of accountability around the school for a set period of time.

4.5 Any decisions regarding academy conversion should be arrived at following a full and proper consultation with the trustees and diocese for all Church schools. The consultation should take place before any decision to make the Academy order.

5 SECTION 9 – CONSULTATION ABOUT ACADEMY SPONSORS

5.1 We welcome the provision on the face of the Bill that the Secretary of State must consult with the trustees of the school and the appropriate religious body . However there is no detail to the nature and structure of this consultation.

5.2 By consulting with the relevant diocese, there is a n assurance that the sponsor will not contradict the school or academy’s trust deeds and utilizes the experience and expertise of the diocese.

July 2015

Prepared 9th July 2015