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.