25 February 2022, The Tablet

A bid to academise 19 schools has been 'paused'

A bid to academise 19 schools has been 'paused'

The continues to encourage academisation across the board.
File pic of pupils celebrating exam results at an academy, by Andrew Higg/Alamy.

A bid to academise 19 schools by the Diocese of Hallam has been “paused” by the Department for Education after four education unions launched a legal challenge to the decision. 

Plans to consolidate the 47 diocesan schools into two new multi-academy trusts (MATs) had existed since last January and received government approval late last year. Unions representing teachers at the 19 non-academy diocesan schools state that the Department for Education then issued letters to each school warning that academisation would proceed in April this year, in spite of opposition from parents and teachers.

The diocese disagrees, claiming that the letters use “standard wording” and indicate only that academisation was now possible if governing bodies chose that step, not that it was mandatory. Academy orders do “not take effect and cannot be enacted until the governing body of a VA school has passed a resolution to convert” the Diocese said in a statement, “and the necessary legal processes have been completed.”

In legal documents seen by The Tablet, however, the trade unions challenging the decision argue that the academy order represents the beginning of academisation legally, not simply the tabling of an option.

The case made by the four unions – Unison, the National Education Union, the National Association of Head Teachers (Naht), and the Association of School and College Leaders – is that only the governing bodies of schools can apply for academy orders.

In a joint statement, the unions warn that more legal action will be taken until the Department for Education drops the orders in question altogether. 

The dispute is likely to be paralleled to some degree across the country as the present government continues to encourage academisation across the board. Late last year, schools in the Archdiocese of Birmingham came under what one teacher’s union termed “huge pressure” to apply for academy status.

A spokesperson for Naht accused the Archdiocese of “ploughing on belligerently” in pursuit of academy status, regardless of how staff and teachers saw the process.

Schools requiring “significant improvement” or “special measures” are automatically issued academy orders, but the schemes themselves, introduced in 2000 under the Blair government, have received significant criticism for inconsistent results. 

Several academy trusts have been accused of financial mismanagement, plummeting educational standards and poor working conditions for staff, frequently making their introduction a lighting-rod for controversy.

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