03 April 2014, The Tablet

Catholic schools in Plymouth to become academies

ALL 35 Catholic schools in the counties of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset are set to become academies under plans by the Diocese of Plymouth, writes James Macintyre.

The Church wants Catholic Social Teaching to be at the heart of a new “multi-academy” trust, called Cast (Catholic and Anglican Schools Trust); the group is hoping that two joint Catholic and Anglican secondary schools will also convert to academy status. The new trust will replace the seven local authorities that oversaw the work of the 35 schools, becoming the biggest of its kind in the country.

The move follows a proposal for all 32 voluntary-aided Catholic schools in Kent to be made ­academies. Growing numbers of Catholic schools are converting to academy status after legislation in 2010 made it possible for any school to do so. By removing them from the control of the local authority, academies give schools greater freedoms over their ­budgets, delivering the curriculum and setting pay and conditions for staff. But the diocese has said there were no plans to change the curriculum in schools at this stage.

The Plymouth trust was the idea of John Mannix, who is Cast’s chief executive as well as the diocese’s director of schools. In 2010, the Church was initially sceptical about schools shifting to academy status and in the Diocese of Salford the bishop has said he will not give permission for any Catholic school to become an academy. However, Mr Mannix saw within the Academies Act an opportunity to secure the “Gospel-based” mission of Catholic schools. In July 2010, shortly before the bill became law, he made the case for academies to the diocesan trustees, who agreed, and later persuaded the Department for Education to allow the creation of Cast.

A church source said that “academisation is the future for Catholic schools”.

Cast’s organisers were keen to stress that constituent schools will be part of a single company, rather than each being an academy company in its own right.

A diocesan spokesman said: “The formation of Cast does not represent a change in direction for the schools. As Catholic schools, our fundamental mission has always derived from the wider mission of the Catholic Church and the particular emphases of the diocesan bishop.”

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