Uncertain future of the Schools Bill

THE core of the Schools Bill as originally published was clauses 1-18 that gave the Secretary of State detailed control of many aspects of the governance and management of all academies.

Although supported by the Bishop of Durham on behalf of the Church of England Education Office, these clauses were withdrawn by the Government after severe criticism in the House of Lords. No replacement clauses have yet seen the light of day, and their detailed wording is crucial to their acceptability in relation to the requirements of the Companies Act and the Charities Act.

There is perhaps, we believe, government confusion between control and accountability; and an unresolved tension, too, between the understandable desire for national or regional planning in the Church and the actual statutory independence of each Diocesan Board of Education.

The Bill has not yet reached its Third Reading in the House of Lords, and the parliamentary website indicates that no date has yet been set for this. Commentators have suggested that the Bill may be considerably delayed (to allow time for new ministers to have policy discussions about replacement clauses 1-18), or may just be dropped pending a rethink.

We hope that the rethink will extend beyond clauses 1-18. We understand that clause 30 (transfer of land) is also the subject of discussion, and correspondence with the DfE has left us very uncertain about their intentions about the nature of the trusts on which such replacement sites would be held. This would have severe implications for most existing C of E school trusts, especially those subject to reversion to the heirs of the original donors.

We are concerned, also, at the absence of any requirement for the transfer of extended sites, or of sites for new church academies, and at the possibility that local trustees would be permitted to refuse to accept a replacement site and thus bring the present purposes of their trust to an end.

The historical position since the Middle Ages, and continued in the Education Acts as they now stand, is that church-provided schools normally occupy charitably owned sites with the purposes of the site trusts’ guaranteeing the permanent church character of the school. This Bill brings that arrangement to an end.

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KQ Education Group