The risks of becoming an academy
A number of Catholic dioceses have been encouraging their schools to take steps to become academies as part of Catholic Multi-Academy Trusts (CATs). We believe that this is a risky move that is also unnecessary in the current political climate and amidst great uncertainty about the future of the academies policy.
When schools are encouraged to become part of a MAT they are often told that doing so will bring stability and security. However, in the experience of the NEU this is often not the case.
Staff terms and conditions
Academies have the power to vary the pay and conditions they offer to employees. No academy schools have committed to implement the national pay and conditions framework indefinitely.
In some cases, staff who have moved to an academy have not had their previous service recognised for maternity purposes and have lost all built-up entitlement to maternity pay.
The changed political context
In May, Education Secretary Damian Hinds announced a review of accountability measures, stating the Government “will not be forcibly turning schools into academies” unless “Ofsted has judged them to be ‘inadequate’.
This change in tone from Government now means that schools that were previously committed to converting are re-evaluating the situation. Three Cambridgeshire schools which until May this year planned to become academies and form their own MAT have now decided against the move. A letter from governors to parents cited “financial and growth challenges” and a recent “change in education policy” which they said made the “current educational climate too ambiguous” to proceed to forming a MAT.
Catholic schools in Camden and Islington in north London also recently decided not to pursue a proposal by the Diocese of Westminster to create a CAT.
The future of the academies project has been thrown into further doubt with Labour’s announcement at their recent annual conference that the party would end the academy programme, allow academies to return to the local authority, and bring all schools within a common regulatory framework.
£2.8bn has been cut from school budgets since 2015 and academies will be hit just as hard by these cuts as maintained schools.
The local authority is responsible for paying redundancy compensation to staff, whereas academies have to find this from their own resources. The consequence is that cuts in academies have been deeper than in maintained schools, as they have to cut costs in order to control their spending and then again to pay for redundancy. This has led to a situation in which eight in 10 academies are in deficit, and many academy trusts are deemed failing because of poor financial governance.
According to the Department for Education’s own figures, more than 2,000 children in England with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are awaiting provision for their education because there is simply not enough money in the system to provide for their needs. This is an immoral situation.
The NEU believes that by working together – the Catholic Church and other faith organisations, local authorities and trade unions – we are better placed to bring our collective moral authority, wisdom and strength to bear to secure the resources that our children need and deserve.
The value of local authorities
For decades, the Church has worked closely with local authorities to provide high-quality education for the pupils in its 2,000-plus schools.
Local authorities offer vital support to Catholic schools: the provision of Special Educational Needs, school improvement, speech and language therapy services are just some of these but in many cases they offer more than this. For example, recently Barking and Dagenham Council worked closely with the Brentwood Catholic Diocese and a local Catholic secondary to deliver a £6 million expansion project with the council using its Basic Need Allocation (a government grant given to councils to ensure there are enough school places) to support the project.
Cases such as this exemplify why Catholic schools with strong links to both the local authority and the Church through their Dioceses, are in a more secure position.
What you can do
Approach your head teacher and/or teacher and staff governors immediately for clarification on whether an application to become an academy is being considered or pursued by governors. If you find that it is, contact your NEU Rep and Regional Office for advice immediately.
Ask your NEU school group to consider writing to your school’s governing body asking it to commit to remaining within the local authority.