12-PAGE PULL-OUT SUPPLEMENT
SCHOOLS, COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
Bring on Catholic academies
Chairman of governors of a top-performing Catholic comprehensive, Mike Craven spells out the advantages in embracing the move towards academy status for both primaries and secondaries
There is a revolution happening in English schools. Half of all secondaries have either become, or are in the process of becoming, academies. Although at a much slower pace, free schools have also started to emerge. As an institution for schools governance, the local authority is on the critical list.
Introduced by Tony Blair’s Government, the pace has increased astonishingly quickly under the Coalition’s Education Secretary Michael Gove. The academy principle enjoys cross-party support and the Secretary of State has been an effective proselytiser for his cause, including a direct appeal to Catholic parents earlier this year to support academy conversion. The financial incentives for Catholic schools have been improved too, with 100 per cent capital funding for Catholic academies compared with 90 per cent for voluntary-aided schools.
Yet while some dioceses such as Southwark have warmly embraced this move, others appear hostile. A third category, including Westminster, is proposing initially to allow schools to convert to academy status but only as part of a collective model. They must either form multi-school academies or become part of a diocese-wide academy in which the diocese is the academy trust. Singleschool academies are specifically ruled out.
This collective approach will undoubtedly suit some such as primary schools, which may not want to take on the responsibilities of financial management that individual academy status brings. For some secondaries, combining with feeder primaries might also work well. But many others will want to become a single-school academy and there could well be a clash of views between parents and schools on the one hand and diocesan schools commissioners on the other.
The apparent hostility to academies on the part of some diocesan schools authorities is puzzling. The evidence from the state sector shows that there is considerable enthusiasm for academy status among schools, heads, teachers and parents. They relish the freedoms that the new status confers – not being bound by the national curriculum, the ability to vary staff terms and conditions and the right to manage their affairs without interference from the town hall. We also know that Catholic schools controlled by religious orders, which do not require the permission of their diocesan education service to convert, are doing so more quickly.
I suspect that there is institutional conservatism on the part of some. Voluntary-aided Catholic schools have served the Church well since 1944 and many see no reason for change. Some of the opposition is part theological, part political. Ministers talk about parental choice, innovation, competition between schools and intolerance of failing schools. On one level, canon law supports such an approach, enshrining parental choice, high standards in education and subsidiarity. But this language sits uneasily with the interpretation of Catholic Social Teaching by some dioceses, which prefer the language of solidarity, community, the “family of Catholic schools” and the preferential option for the poor. And there is a clear if unstated concern that the best schools will “declare UDI” at the expense of the rest of the diocese.
For Catholics, it is clearly important not to overemphasise parental choice at the expense of solidarity. But the reverse also applies and, clearly, it would not be right to use the argument of Catholic Social Teaching as an excuse for doing nothing, and trying to preserve a structure of schools that is withering week by week in the state sector.
(Continued on page s2.)
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4 February 2012 | TABLET Education | s1