Academy conversion is often promoted as a positive or necessary move for Catholic schools, but the reality is a very different: it presents a clear risk to staff terms and conditions, accountability to the wider community and means losing support from the local authority.
The NEU position on Catholic Multi-Academy Trusts
The NEU has many thousands of members in Catholic schools and will continue to value and support them whatever decisions are made over the future status of their school. However, we believe Catholic schools and our members that work within them are best off within the local authority and we will support our members to oppose academisation.
Where Catholic schools do convert, it is important that that employment policies and contracts are levelled up in negotiation with the NEU and other unions. Catholic Dioceses should also agree to commit to union recognition and joint negotiating.
There are significant risks and downsides to joining a MAT. These include the risk of worsening pay and conditions for staff, loss of support from the local authority and less accountability to the local community.
The value of local authorities to Catholic Schools
Catholic schools with strong links to both the local authority and the Church through their Dioceses, are in a more secure position.
Catholic Voluntary Aided (VA) schools are fundamentally connected to and supported by their diocese: the majority of governors of a VA school are appointed by the diocese for this reason. At the same time, Catholic VA schools benefit from a strong link to the local authority family of 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 the services provided by councils, but in many cases local authorities offer more than this.
School finances are often cited as a reason to convert but academies are funded in the same way as maintained schools. In fact, Catholic MATs are at a significant disadvantage as they will not be able to achieve the same economies of scale as local authorities.
School autonomy and accountability
When a school becomes an academy, it ceases to exist as a legal entity. The MAT board now decides which powers, if any, it delegates to local governing bodies. The role and influence of local governors may be reduced or even removed.
Joining a MAT also risks losing connections to the local community: there is no requirement for MATs to include parent representatives on the local governing bodies of each academy; in fact some MATs have even abolished local bodies altogether. There is also no requirement for staff governors on MAT governing bodies.
Conversion to academy status is not inevitable. Catholic schools in different areas have recognised the benefits of being part of the local family of schools and have chosen not to convert. Staff and parent campaigns have also forced the reversal of plans by schools to convert, for example in the Diocese of Brentwood (Essex and East London). As we write, opposition to the academisation of all Catholic schools in the Diocese of Westminster is ongoing.
What you can do:
- Find out if your school is considering joining a MAT - don’t wait until you hear that your governing body is considering academy status before expressing the collective view of the NEU group.
- Talk to colleagues about the risks of academisation: ensure that all NEU members in the school are aware of the implications of academy status on their pay and conditions of employment, and for the school as a whole.
- Contact governors and ask them to commit to remaining as a VA school.
Rights to consultation if a school is seeking to convert:
- Academy conversion is an irreversible process with far-reaching consequences for pupils, staff and the wider community.
- The NEU believes that governing bodies have a common law duty in respect of consultations and that no school governing body should take a vote on academy conversion until after full and meaningful consultation with the whole school community has taken place. The feedback from this consultation should inform the decision of the governors.
- School reps and members should argue for the widest and most thorough consultation with all those affected by the school’s potential transfer to academy status.
- Some NEU groups have successfully argued that the school should hold a ballot of key stakeholders before taking any decision on conversion. The NEU supports this approach to ensure that there is the widest possible debate and fullest possible participation in the decision-making process.
Read more on consultation requirements and the NEU view here.
Protecting members when a school joins a MAT
While existing staff will be protected by TUPE initially, academies are not bound to follow national or locally agreed terms and conditions and can change terms and conditions for new staff or following a restructure. While Catholic MATs are expected to continue to follow national terms and conditions, it is important to argue for good local policies to continue to apply and seek to ensure recognition and a joint union framework for negotiation in accordance with the TUC Model Agreement for Academies. The success of such structures is dependent on the building up of rep capacity and networking of workplace groups across an employer. The Catholic Education Service (CES) has a number of model policies, but these have not been negotiated nor agreed by the NEU and require local consultation with academy trusts. What happens at school and MAT level is what matters if members are to ensure their rights and terms and conditions are protected.