Catholic Church joins unions to block plans to turn schools into academies

The Catholic Church has joined forces with education unions to try to amend key legislation, in a bid to ensure local communities are consulted if schools are turned into academies.

The Education and Adoption Bill, championed by education secretary Nicky Morgan, pictured, is currently making its way through Parliament. It will turn all struggling state-maintained schools into academies, and will force any underperforming academy to be taken over by a new sponsor.

But a group of high-profile organisations, including the Catholic Church, has warned that the legislation takes decision-making away from the local community and puts it in the hands of unelected officials.

The move comes after reports over the weekend claimed that peers would try to block the government’s plans to convert all underperforming schools into academies in the House of Lords.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, the organisations say they would like to see the clause removed and a new one added to ensure that more is done to meet “the dramatic increase in pupil numbers” that is expected over the next few years.

The letter, signed by the Catholic Education Service, the National Governors’ Association (NGA), and education unions the NAHT, NUT, ATL and Unison; and parent group the Local Schools Network, says: “In its current form, the Education and Adoption Bill going through Parliament will deny parents, governors and some communities a say in the future of their school. If passed, it will force schools that Ofsted judges to have serious weaknesses, or are in special measures, to become academies. Neither legal challenge, nor objections from the community served by the school, will be permitted. Nobody with an interest in the school will even be allowed access to information about the sponsor.”

While the group agrees that action must be taken if a school is underperforming, it questions whether turning every school into an academy will have the impact the government expects.

“When it comes to improving schools, the priority must be the children, but it is wrong to think that every school will be able to convert immediately to academy status, especially at a time of stretched budgets, teachers already working to capacity and a shortage of sponsors,” the group adds.

The group says it would like to see the government being held directly accountable for meeting the need for pupil places and for teacher recruitment.

Tony Draper, the NAHT’s national president said: “There are serious and significant challenges facing our school system today including funding, recruitment and pupil places. As written, the Bill addresses none of these challenges. That is why we need a new clause that makes the government accountable for the basics.”

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