Dioceses may work together on academy plans
The Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Philip Egan (front), and Bishop Christopher with sixth-formers at Christ the King College, a joint Catholic/C of E school on the Isle of Wight
CHURCH of England and Catholic schools on the Isle of Wight could be brought together into one, island-wide academies trust.
The Church of England and Catholic Bishops of Portsmouth have agreed to a feasibility study to see if a joint Anglican/Catholic trust could be an option to ensure academic standards are maintained and driven upwards at Isle of Wight schools. It would be in response to the government’s agenda to improve pupils’ attainment and to convert schools into academies.
Education staff in both dioceses will consider between now and May the potential benefits and challenges to such a proposal. The idea would also require approval by the government’s Department for Education and the Regional Schools Commissioner before any firm decisions are taken.
Any new trust would not be run by either bishop or diocese, but by a separate group of trustees and a formally established company, as is the case for all multi-academy trusts. Each Catholic school in this trust would become a Catholic academy, each C of E school involved would become a C of E academy, while the two joint C of E/Catholic schools on the island would become joint C of E/Catholic academies.
The Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth had already announced that it expects its four Catholic schools on the island to join one of the multi-academy trusts being established. The governing bodies of some of the 11 Church of England schools and two joint C of E/Catholic schools on the island had also expressed an interest in academisation.
If such a multi-academy trust is created, island community schools could then also apply to joinin the future, when the success of the trust is secured. They would remain as community academies within this new trust. They would not be asked to become C of E or Catholic academies.
The Rt Rev Philip Egan, Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, and the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, Church of England Bishop of Portsmouth, have written jointly to all the headteachers, chairs of governors and foundation governors at their schools on the island this week, outlining plans for the feasibility study.
They said: “We remain grateful for the energy and commitment you give to our children, families and communities on the island as part of your work and service in our schools. Our historic, current and future commitment as diocesan bishops to taking a lead in advancing the spiritual, economic, social and wider flourishing of communities on the island continues, and we are acutely aware that this is demonstrably evidenced in our support for schools and all they can bring to families and society.
“As part of our considerations as to how we might best work with schools in achieving the best outcomes for our children on the island, we have decided to commission a feasibility study on the potential establishment of a joint Anglican-Catholic multi-academy trust (MAT).
“This is not a signal of intent to definitely set up a MAT, but is an initial exploration of the options, challenges, opportunities and issues that need further consideration. We wanted you to be aware that this exercise is about to commence, in the spirit of openness and to be able to seek your views and comments as part of the process.”
The director of education for Portsmouth and Winchester’s Church of England dioceses, Jeff Williams, said: “We have already set up the Portsmouth and Winchester Multi-Academy Trust, but it is hard for schools on the island to receive support from other academies in this trust because of the distances and travel involved.
“Our Church of England and Catholic dioceses already work closely together in the two joint island schools, so our feeling was that we could extend that co-operation across the Isle of Wight. The government’s expectation is that all schools should become academies, and this could be an effective way in which they do so.
“This emphatically would not involve the creation of some church school ‘enclave’, as can be seen by our willingness to involve community schools. And any community schools joining this new MAT would retain the character and ethos of a community school – it would be unlawful to expect them to change.
“But this eight-week research project should give us an idea whether there is the appetite and practical support for this plan in the schools, the local community, and in government.”
Anyone who has any views about the proposals can email them to IslandMAT@portsmouth.anglican.org