Department for Education offers protection for schools designated with a religious character
After the release of the White Paper last month, stating all schools will move towards an all-academy system by 2022, the Government has recently published an agreement governing how churches and the Department for Education (DfE) will work in the new academy landscape. This agreement will ensure that the religious character and ethos of church and faith schools is protected and remain part of a "diocesan family of schools."
Around 50 dioceses at present are designated as academy sponsors, with up to 1,000 Christian faith academies serving around 500,000 pupils representing a much smaller proportion than non-faith schools. Only 5% of Church of England and Roman Catholic Schools are academies, compared to 17% of schools that are not of religious character.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) outlines how Catholic and Church of England schools, and its respective diocese, will work alongside the Regional Schools Commissioners and the Government. It sets out clear protocols for agreeing the arrangements required when church schools become academies.
The Memorandum of Understanding between the Catholic Church and the DfE states that “the DfE respects the statutory right and requirement for Diocesan and Trustee consent, to allow a Catholic school to become an academy.” The agreement with the Church of England states that "the DfE respects the statutory right and requirement for the consent of various diocesan bodies to allow a church school to become an academy.”
The greatest difference between these two documents is around sponsorship. Catholic schools will have greater control over who sponsors schools found to be underperforming. However, for Church of England schools the ''expectation'' is for another diocesan or ''strong church led'' trust to be the sponsor for underperforming schools. In cases where there are no suitable church trusts, the regional schools commissioner may look to a non-church sponsor. However, the Government has said that in cases where a non-church trust sponsors a Church of England school, the sponsor must safeguard the religious character and ethos of the school.