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Go-it-alone threat to ‘family of schools’

Education chief warns that RC plan to set up multi-academy trust ‘is jump into the unknown’

21 July, 2017

Cllr Joe Caluori: ‘There’s some risk’

PLANS to bring all Catholic schools in Islington and Camden together under one academy trust have put the Diocese of Westminster at loggerheads with Town Hall chiefs and teaching unions.

Currently, the borough’s eight Catholic primary schools and its secondary school, St Aloysius, are part of Islington Council’s family of schools. But the Diocese has drawn up plans to bring them together under a 19-school, multi-academy trust with Camden schools.

The rationale is to provide more financial security, to improve structures that support “vulnerable” schools, to help them “work better together”, and to “strengthen Catholic mission”, said John Paul Morrison, director of education at the Diocese.

“There’s [currently] no consistency in the support for our schools,” he told the Tribune. “We want to protect, secure and develop Catholic education, and to work more in collaboration with each other.

“[Within a multi-academy trust] we’d have far more control over finances and future planning of our schools. It’s about high-quality governance, whether schools are safe and secure.”

Mr Morrison said the advantage of becoming a multi-academy trust was partly financial – it would get full state funding instead of the current 90 per cent and would not have to pay VAT.

But the proposals have not been welcomed by the Town Hall, which said the move was risky and would undermine the cohesion of education in Islington.

Education chief Councillor Joe Caluori said: “It’s a jump into the unknown and I don’t think parents would want it. If I were a parent I would be asking: ‘What is the advantage of academising? How would it make results better? How would it bring in more finance?’

“There’s a danger if they don’t behave like our community of schools, there’s some risk there because we have a really good record of school improvement. Does the Catholic Diocese have a better record than Islington? I don’t think they do.”

Councillor Osh Gantly, a governor at Sacred Heart Primary School in Holloway, added: “The Diocese are pushing it very hard but I honestly don’t believe it’s in the best interests of the pupils. We’ve got a good track record locally of running schools. Who is to say that academy status is more stable than local authority-funded schools?

“If more and more schools leave the borough family it will become harder and harder and will inevitably lead to cutbacks.”

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is also opposed. Tony Buttifint, secretary of Islington NUT, said the proposals would see a “reduction in local accountability and control” and were likely to lead to job losses.

“Neither in the Academy Strategy and policy nor in Cardinal Nichols’ [Archbishop of Westminster] response to specific questions posed by NUT are there any guarantees over pay and conditions or job losses,” he said.

Mr Buttifint added that there was “no evidence whatsoever” that multi-academy trusts improved educational outcomes for children.

If the plans go ahead, the multi-academy trust would have a chief executive and board, while schools would retain the same headteachers and governing boards.

The final decision rests with each school’s board of governors. Schools are expected to decide in the new academic year whether they want to join the multi-academy trust or remain part of the Islington family of schools.


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