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CES gives cautious support to academy reform

By on Friday, 28 January 2011

Bishop Malcolm McMahon, chairman of the Catholic Education Service (Photo: Mazur)

Bishop Malcolm McMahon, chairman of the Catholic Education Service (Photo: Mazur)

The Catholic Education Service of England and Wales (CESEW) has backed the idea that some Catholic schools could become academies.

But it has stopped short of giving its full support to academy reform, saying it has yet to decide if Catholic schools “should” transfer to academy status.

Bishop Malcolm McMahon, chairman of the CESEW, said in a statement issued today: “It is now our view that Catholic schools could become academies, subject to further discussion with Ministers. A more difficult question is: should they do so?”

The bishop added: “Our conclusion is that we should make conversion to academies a ready possibility for Catholic schools, subject to the wishes of their bishop, trustees and governing body.”

The CESEW has kept a neutral stance on academy reform since May last year when it said Catholic schools would be “unwise” to become academies.

Its statement today signals for the first time that Catholic schools could take up the offer.

Bishop McMahon suggested that a cluster of schools could become academies under a single academy trust.

“We expect that the establishment of federations of schools may be a stepping stone on the route to academy status, or form the basis of an academy trust. One of the areas which we want to explore in more detail with the Government is the diverse academy trusts structure which may suit different local circumstances eg having an umbrella trust or cluster of schools forming an academy trust,” the bishop said.

He said that the education landscape was changing rapidly, and “we must be prepared to innovate and adapt with it”.

But he said the CESEW was keen to maintain the “family” of Catholic schools. “We have reflected at length on Catholic social teaching and our responsibilities to the wider community and the poor; we are not in favour of a free-for-all in which some institutions flourish whilst others wither, for our schools are not just lone institutions,” the bishop said.

He said each academy would be entitled a “Catholic voluntary academy” – “a reflection of the distinctive nature of our sector, its history and what it brings”.

Bishop McMahon said he had asked the CESEW to develop a “national strategy” for Catholic education. He also praised the education body for its “painstaking” negotiations with Government officials which had resulted in “significant” changes to the proposals.

Last year the CESEW urged the Government to consider the idea of voluntary aided academies, in which 10 per cent of the capital costs would be paid by the Church.

Currently academies are paid for entirely by the Government, whereas a tenth of capital costs of voluntary-aided Catholic schools are paid for by the Church.

In July last year it was revealed that 84 Catholic schools had expressed their interest in becoming academies.

  • Martha

    One can be sure that if The CES are involved it wiill not be good for Catholic education. The prime motive of CESEW will be to cling on to their control of schools and produce a “one size fits all” series of identikit “federations”. How depressing. (for “family of schools” read ” one school will be not be allowed to perform better than another- we will level everything out.)

  • Frances

    The CES have diluted Catholic ethos to such an extent that there is very little evidence of Catholic life left in schools now anyway. If the CES is involved this new initiative will just help to finish Catholic schools off completely. The few remaining truly Catholic schools will be forced into “federations” , and that will be that.

  • Anonymous

    It is regrettable that, in a 650 word statement, Bishop Mc Mahon did not mention the word “parent” once, and his only reference to “family” was in the context of establishing a layer of bureaucracy to replace Local Education Authorities, from which Academies were intended to liberate schools. This disregard of the important role of the “primary and principal educators of their children” (Gravissimum Educationis, 3) by the Chairman of the CES provides a policy context for the marginalisation of parents in the governance of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, where the Diocese of Westminster has refused to appoint parents of current pupils as foundation governors.

    Bishop McMahon’s vision of “having an umbrella trust or cluster of schools forming an academy trust,” could take this exclusion of parents from participation a stage further. No longer would parents be able to express a preference for the school which they want their children to attend; the “umbrella trust” would be in a position to allocate applicants among the schools in the “cluster”, according to its preferred formula, thus ensuring “equality” of intake, which, they believe, will eliminate disparity of outcome. It is highly unlikely that any parental involvement in these “umbrella trusts” is envisaged, since there does not appear to have been any parental representation in the “detailed” negotiations that have taken place between the DfE and the CES.

    This is puzzling, since the Secretary of State’s declared intention is to encourage greater participation by parents in their children’s education, and the teaching of the Church is clear on the primacy of the parental role in this regard. Can the DfE and the CES have agreed a position

  • Anonymous

    The most striking thing about Bishop McMahon’s 650 word statement is that he manages to avoid mentioning the word “parent” even once, and his only mention of the word “family” is in the context of creating an additional layer of educational bureaucracy to replace the Local Education Authority from which the establishment of Academies was intended to liberate schools. Since the Church teaches that parents are ‘the primary and principal educators of their children” (Gravissimum Educationis, 3), it seems inexplicable that this statement represents the fruit of “painstaking” negotiations with a Department for Education whose declared policy is to enourage greater parental participation in their children’s education.

    The similarly inexplicable refusal of the Diocese of Westminster to appoint parents of current pupils as foundation governors at the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School should be considered in the light of this statement. If it is indeed the policy of the CES to disregard the role of parents, it scarcely surprising that the Diocesan Education Service holds them in a similar lack of respect. The question is, how is this attitude to be squared with Church teaching?

  • Anonymous

    So Catholic Schools can be academies…but only if their bishop says so. No reference to parental wishes at all.

  • SS1

    Seems fair enough that the Bishop should have the final say on whether a Catholic school becomes an academy. After all, he is the shepherd of his flock in the diocese.

  • Thoresbymanvers24

    if HMG agrees to pay 100% of capital cost then Bishop Macmoan would be a little happier for a time until he found other things to moan about.Close all the Catholic schools and make them State Academies with option to open on Saturdays for Catholic teaching if they can find the dedicated teachers to do it free.. no pay unless Parents paid them.

  • Anonymous

    He is, but neither he, nor the Diocesan Education Service, is the “primary and principal educator[s]” of children; the Church’s teaching reserves that role to parents. It is for the Church to support parents in the performance of that role, but it is difficult how the Church can provide such support when its bishops do not appear to recognise the priority of parents.