08 February 2022, The Tablet

Dioceses back multi-academy trusts

Teacher's unions in schools affected have strongly criticised moves towards academisation.

Dioceses back multi-academy trusts

Official Opening of St Paul's Catholic School in Leicester

A push by Catholic dioceses to convert schools into academies has sparked legal threats, governor resistance and unease of teachers and parents, according to several recent articles in Schools Week, a digital newspaper focusing on investigative education journalism. However, it notes that dioceses feel that multi-academy trusts can solve such threats as falling rolls and schools having to join a non-Christian trust.

Academisation moves a school away from local authority oversight. The funding link is direct to government, while resourcing and the running of the school comes down to the trust. All 19 dioceses in England currently have some academies, but two-thirds of Catholic schools remain voluntary aided.

Schools Week reports that the Archdiocese of Birmingham has had a five-year push to convert and consolidate its schools into multi-academy trusts. In spite of this, 90 schools remain voluntary aided, some emphasising their primary identity as local community schools. Two Birmingham heads have said they felt compelled to resist, claiming the archdiocese has not offered sufficient explanation or discussion. One said her school would not co-operate “until made to”.

The National Association of Head Teachers has convened meetings for heads and governors in Birmingham and Hallam this month on the issue. In Hallam diocese, four unions recently warned of legal action after the diocese secured approval from the Department for Education to academise 19 voluntary-aided schools. 

Catholic dioceses are positive about multi-academy trusts. Lancaster counts teacher development and pooled expertise as among the benefits. This week it was announced in the northwest that the first six schools, including St Chad’s Catholic and Church of England High School in Runcorn, will join the St Joseph Catholic Multi-Academy Trust this term. The trust is run in partnership between the Archdiocese of Liverpool and the Diocese of Shrewsbury and in collaboration with the Church of England Dioceses of Chester and Liverpool.

Ann Connor OBE, the chair of the board of directors for St Joseph Multi Academy Trust, said: “I believe that schools flourish when they are part of a family of schools, and St Joseph, as a multi-academy trust, that is also part of diocesan education, will provide the best of both worlds.” Canon Michael Fitzsimons, the episcopal vicar for education at the Archdiocese of Liverpool, said the Archdiocese has affirmed its stance of being open to various forms of school governance, including voluntary aided schools and academies.

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