21 April 2016, The Tablet

Bishops will retain control as schools convert to academies

The government has pledged to protect the religious character of Catholic schools when they convert to academies, in a new Memorandum of Understanding released this week.

The document, produced in partnership with the Catholic Education Service (CES), follows the Budget announcement by Chancellor George Osborne (pictured below) that all state schools in England will become academies by 2020.

It establishes the CES as a national-level watchdog and sets out key principles to inform the working arrangements between the Department for Education (DfE), CES and Catholic dioceses in relation to Catholic schools becoming academies.

If a Catholic school voluntarily decides to become an academy, this decision lies with the diocesan bishop, says the document.

In the case of an underperforming Catholic school, where academisation becomes necessary before 2020, the Department for Education will protect the religious character of the school, “acknowledging that for a school to continue to be a Catholic school the Catholic Church must retain control of governance, in accordance with canon law.

“Put simply, to be a Catholic school it must be controlled by the Catholic Church and be recognised as such by the Diocesan Bishop,” states the paper.

However, it is recognised that the initial communication of policy changes must be made at a national level, rather than at a local level.

“The DfE, therefore, commit to communicating all changes of policy directly to the CES in the first instance for onward communication by the CES to Dioceses.”

The CES is also to be consulted should a diocese and local-level government groups be unable to agree as to the best course of action for a struggling Catholic school. The Catholic Education Service, states the document, will “facilitate further discussions to find a solution”.

CES director Paul Barber welcomed the Memorandum.

n The head of a prestigious Catholic boarding school that is facing closure has said that Catholic parents are no longer driven to send their children to Catholic schools.

St Richard’s, an independent Catholic boarding school in North Hertfordshire, is to close in July after 95 years. Tough local competition meant that it was unable to fill places, said headmaster Fred de Falbe.

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