Have faith: DfE will solve Catholic impasse

27th January 2017 at 00:00
Government officials say they will do ‘everything they can’ to remove the barriers to Catholic colleges becoming academies – but there are no guarantees

We inch ever closer to the first sixth-form college throwing off the cloak of incorporation to become an academy. As TES reported last week, Hereford Sixth Form College is at the front of the queue – and could even complete the process in the next few days.

At the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA) conference last week, minister Lord Nash said that a fifth of colleges had begun the official academisation process. And he’d like to see more follow this path.

“We’re still very keen to recruit high-quality sponsors and believe many sixth-form colleges have characteristics which would be very much in demand as sponsors, as the academy set-up continues to grow over the next few years,” he told delegates.

But Lord Nash appeared surprised when asked about the group of colleges denied access to the promised land: Catholic sixth-form colleges. This collection of 15 institutions “currently find ourselves without the options available to our fellow sixth-form colleges”, explained Peter McGhee, principal of St John Rigby College in Wigan.


“We’re unable to progress the possibility of academisation since we’re still awaiting notification from the Catholic Education Service that there is legislation in place to enable us to do this.”

The Catholic colleges could convert, but they would lose their 'faith characteristics'

Lord Nash swiftly roped in a Department for Education colleague for back-up, who explained the problem: while the Catholic colleges could convert, they would lose their “faith characteristics” – which give them special dispensation over areas such as recruitment and the curriculum – as a result. The DfE official added that, while experts were working to resolve the issue, at present it appeared that new legislation would be required.

Lord Nash wrapped up by acknowledging that the DfE officials would do “everything we can” to resolve the impasse – but stressed he could not give an “absolute guarantee”.

Blackpool amusements

Speaking of the SFCA conference, FErret’s spies tell him of a rather awkward moment involving none other than Dame Julia Cleverdon. You know, the vice-patron of Teach First, vice-president of Business in the Community and former special adviser to the Prince’s Charities.

Soon after walking on stage at Friends House in London to give her keynote address, she recalled a conversation she’d had with Lancashire’s police chief constable, who had voiced concerns about Blackpool’s young people.

“What they need,” Dame Julia told the audience, “is an excellent sixth-form college like yours.” Lauding your crowd is always safe ground, isn’t it? Well it would have been had one of the delegates present not been the principal of Blackpool Sixth Form College, an institution Dame Julia was apparently unaware of.

But all’s well that ends well. Shortly afterwards, the pair enjoyed a conversation and pledged to work together for the good of Blackpool. Phew. FErret loves a happy ending.

Share your gossip, scandal and intrigue with FErret by emailing ferret@tesglobal.com

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