Heads fear 'forced academisation' of faith schools

Nearly 600 church schools affected by plans put to heads and governors

Warwick Mansell

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Hundreds of church schools would be converted into academies under diocese plans attracting sharp criticism from headteachers and governors.

The plans would see nearly 600 church schools covered by three dioceses in central and southern England, educating about 200,000 pupils, run by academy trusts responsible for up to 22 schools each.

Ministers proposed, in a White Paper published in March, to force all schools to become academies by 2022. This policy was abandoned in May, following opposition from Conservative backbench MPs.

Rob Kelsall, senior regional organiser for the NAHT headteachers’ union, said that the diocese plans could amount to “forced academisation by the back door”. This has been denied by the dioceses. Mr Kelsall added that many school leaders were wary of their schools losing autonomy under the proposals.

Under a proposal put to headteachers and governors of schools in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster on 1 December, 180 schools would join 12 multi-academy trusts (MAT) with a combined income of £451m. 

In Birmingham, Catholic heads have been sent plans for the formation of 15 MATs, educating 80,346 pupils in total across 34 secondary schools and 201 primaries.

MATs would also run up to 156 schools covered by the London Diocesan Board for Schools (LDBS), under plans put forward in September.

Inigo Woolf,  LDBS chief executive said: “There is no pressure on voluntary aided [non-academy] schools to become academies unless there are benefits for pupils in converting. It would be remiss of LDBS not to have contingency plans should one or more schools be required to convert [because of poor performance] or want to convert for the benefit of their pupils.”

A Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster spokesperson said the academies strategy was a response to “great uncertainty and financial austerity”, and also aimed to promote and secure “Catholic mission and identity in education”. The diocese said that it would “continue to work collaboratively” with all schools and added: “We must emphasise that there will be no forced academisation.”

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham has been contacted for comment.

This is an edited article from the 6 January edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Warwick Mansell

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