Page 13, 9th March 2012

9th March 2012
Page 13
Page 13, 9th March 2012 — Catholic schools have plenty of reasons not to become academies

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Catholic schools have plenty of reasons not to become academies

From Mr Robert Ian Williams SIR – Eric Hester (letter, March 2) wants to know why more Catholic schools in England and Wales have not signed up to academy status. First of all, he should get his facts right. Academy schools are not allowed in Wales, as the Welsh Assembly government has devolved control over education and totally rejects both the concept of academies and free schools as socially divisive. In England, the legislation that enabled academies to be enacted was passed by Parliament using emergency powers and stifling proper debate.

An academy school will be able to employ teachers, with no respect to the hard-won national agreement on pay and conditions. Indeed, like free schools, an academy can employ a person to teach with no formal teaching qualification. The head will be only accountable to his governors, and while in some cases governors can be independent minded, in my experience they are generally subservient to the head teacher. As regards the local authority, which Mr Hester deprecates, my local authority provides an excellent (nonpolitical) education service by which schools are supported with resources and advisory subject leaders.

Mr Hester should also note that the national curriculum has no say as regards what goes into Catholic religious education, and to describe it as pagan is gross exaggeration. The national curriculum was one of the better legacies of Mrs Thatcher’s social revolution.

Academies are no more and no less than an attack on the state education system. They will divert cash from the local authority schools and create two classes of schools. This, I believe, runs contrary to the Catholic belief in the common good.

In his teaching career Mr Hester benefited from teachers’ pay and conditions and a pension system, and yet he wants Catholic teachers to support a system which amounts to turkeys voting for Christmas.

Yours faithfully, ROBERT IAN WILLIAMS By email From Susan Fitzpatrick SIR – Eric Hester is absolutely right to welcome the growing number of maintained secondary schools converting to academy status.

He is also correct to observe that the academy model might well have been designed with Catholic schools in mind. The opportunity to be free of local authority bureaucracy, to set their own curriculum, holiday dates and teachers’ pay and conditions is an example of the operation of the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity (according to which decisions are taken at the level closest to those who will be affected by them).

Mr Hester’s puzzlement about the apparent reluctance of the bishops, through their agency, the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (CESEW), to permit the pursuit of academy status for Catholic schools is therefore widely shared, not least because Catholic academies were already established under the previous government. The announcement last week that 13 Catholic secondary schools have become academies ought, at first sight, to be welcomed as a sign that what appeared to be a blockage is beginning to clear.

Nevertheless, perusal of the CESEW’s model agreement for single academies gives rise to a number of questions that will be of concern to Catholic parents.

For example, the stipulation that a third of the governors of a voluntaryaided school must be parents (either elected or appointed by the foundation) is not replicated in the model agreement.

Moreover, the role of the governing body itself is far from clear; there is provision for the appointment of an academy trust above the governing body, of which certain officers of the governing body will be members.

Neither parents nor staff (not even the head) are to be represented on this body, and its relationship with the governing body is not spelt out. Will the governing body remain autonomous or will it simply rubberstamp the decisions of the academy trust?

The Church assigns the role of “primary and principal educator” of their children to parents.

These primary educators are entitled to not only clear and unequivocal answers to their questions, but proper representation on the bodies responsible for taking decisions relating to their children’s education. Yours faithfully, SUSAN FITZPATRICK By email

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