The Education White Paper and Academy Status

Director of Education at the Diocese of Liverpool, Dr. Jon Richardson responds to some of the elements in the government's White Paper on Education

Schools and parents will no doubt be coming to terms with the Government’s White Paper - Educational Excellence Everywhere. Even if you have not read all 125 pages of it (!), the messages are clear and concern much more than the policy aim that every school should be an academy by 2020.

A number of ‘new’ ideas contained in the White Paper will need time for proper consideration, but my purpose in writing is to remind you of the position of the Diocesan Board of Education (DBE) on academies and to stress the need for schools to avoid hasty responses to what is proposed. At the risk of sounding like a character from Dad’s Army, my message is ‘don’t panic’!

Firstly, the proposal that “where schools are not academies or have not started the process by 2020, we will take steps to direct them to become academies so that by 2022 we will have brought a definitive end to the role of local authorities in maintaining schools” (para 4.7), should be no surprise. Indeed, the DBE decided last November to conduct Diocese-wide consultations on its strategy to deal with just such a policy and the subject was the main agenda item for this term’s cluster meetings with headteachers – the best attended we have ever had in most places.

Some clear views about how Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) should be set up to include all our schools emerged at those meetings, but it will be important to engage fully with Governors and the PCCs of churches with church schools in their parishes during this year, before the DBE reviews its policy in November. This approach was set out in my letter to schools and incumbents (with church schools in their parishes) in January and the White Paper presents no reason to change this approach or timescale. We face the biggest change to the structure of education since the 1944 Education Act, and we need to get our response right!

In making this case, I would stress the following:

1. The White Paper is far from being legislation and will not be so for many months, perhaps not this year.
2. The details regarding academies may change during the Parliamentary process.
3. In any event, the means by which the legislation will be implemented will not be known in detail until the Regulations/Statutory Instruments are published after the Act is passed.
4. The White Paper suggests that further legislation will not follow until 2020 to force reluctant successful schools into academy status.
5. There will undoubtedly be much discussion in the coming months between the Church of England’s national officers and ministers/civil servants, also involving diocesan officers, the outcome of which will impact to some degree on our future actions.

Against this background, I would also make the following points:

6. The policy of the DBE on its schools becoming academies remains one of neutrality for the moment – it will neither seek to force a school down this path, nor (if DBE criteria are met) prevent schools becoming academies.
7. Whilst there have been exceptions on two occasions, it should not be assumed that the DBE will agree proposals for church schools to be in MATs with community schools – this matter will be considered fully by the DBE in November, but in the meantime colleagues should not make assumptions in this regard when discussing possibilities with colleagues from community schools.
8. Schools that might anyway have wished to explore academy status remain free to do so, but are reminded that DBE approval is required before a bid is made to the DfE – the future situation is unclear, but it should be noted that the White Paper talks about working with the Churches in these matters “both nationally and regionally” (para 4.9).

I apologise for the length of this message, although it is rather shorter than the White Paper! As stated, discussions on this subject will continue into the autumn and I would urge as many people as possible to engage in these.