Board of Education
Promoting Christian distinctiveness through excellent education in the Diocese of Rochester

A briefing paper for PCCs, Deanery Synods etc.

Academies: A briefing paper for PCCs, Deanery Synods and others who appoint Foundation Governors to Church of England Schools.

Schools are to be offered the opportunity to make some radical changes in the way they are organised, and PCCs and Deanery Synods will have a part to play in this process if they are responsible for appointing one or more Foundation Governors to a Church School. This briefing paper sets out advice from the Diocesan Board of Education to PCCs and Deanery Synods and others who have responsibility for appointing such Governors.

The Government is encouraging schools to become 'Academies'. Academies are independent schools which are publicly funded. They will no longer have any structural relationship with their Local Authority; they will not be bound by the National Curriculum or the Basic Curriculum (National Curriculum plus RE - though RE and worship will be required by their Funding Agreements with the Secretary of State); they will no longer have to follow nationally agreed salaries and staff terms and conditions; they will be free to set their own term dates and school times of day. Currently the money available for schools comes from central government through Local Authorities, and the Local Authorities keep some of it to fund the services they provide like special needs and behavioural and advisory support etc. Academy funding will come straight from central government and the schools themselves will decide if they want such services and where to buy them in from. They will however be required to replicate the special needs provision of maintained schools and may receive LA funding towards such learners.

There are pros and cons to all this for Church Schools. There may be opportunities to expand Church School provision but on the other hand, unless proper procedures are observed the move to Academy status could leave the religious character of Church schools rather vulnerable. The legislation states that a school’s religious character must be maintained but it will be important to ensure that this is given proper effect by including the appropriate forms of words in the various foundation documents. Only in this way can we be sure that the schools' religious character is safeguarded.

Before a school can adopt Academy status it must consult a number of bodies, among them are all those which appoint Foundation Governors. That's where PCCs and Deanery Synods come in to the picture. If those who appoint Foundation Governors do not approve then the school cannot become an Academy so this will be a very important discussion indeed for PCCs and Synods.

No doubt members of PCCs and Synods will have a range of personal opinions about the merits of Academy status but under the new legislation it is the right of the Governing Body of the school to seek such status if they believe it to be right for the school. The assumption should always be that the Governors know what is best for their school; and in any case reasons for withholding approval should relate to the specific circumstances of an individual school and not to the principle of Academy status.

Having said this it is extremely important that the school's religious character is safeguarded and that's where the Church bodies have an important role to play. The Diocesan Board of Education has set up a process to assess each school's application according to its merits and, on the basis of legal advice, it will vet each application very carefully against a checklist of important items before deciding whether or not to approve the application. If the Board does not approve, it will not go forward. The Board will withhold approval unless all the appropriate safeguards are in place to maintain the school's historic religious trust and its current religious character.

PCCs and Deanery Synods must make their own independent decision on this matter but the Diocesan Board of Education would encourage PCCs and Synods to consult the Board and then consider their response in the light of the Board's advice.

This is only a brief introduction but some PCCs or Deanery Synods will wish to have fuller information about the issues involved in order to inform their discussion. For further information contact John Constanti, Acting Director of Education on john.constanti@rochester.anglican.org.