Department for Education backs down over forced academisation of 19 Catholic schools – including one in Worksop

The Education Secretary has agreed to withdraw academy orders that were sent to schools in the Catholic Diocese of Hallam, which includes one in Worksop.

Wednesday, 2nd March 2022, 11:12 am

Unions representing staff in schools across Hallam Diocese wrote to secretary of state for education Nadhim Zahawi last month warning him that letters sent to all voluntary aided schools in the area informing them that they would be forced to join multi-academy trusts were ‘unlawful’.

They threatened to pursue legal action unless the orders were withdrawn, stating that the only way schools can be forced to become academies is if they are eligible for intervention, however none in Hallam are currently in this category.

Mr Zahawi has now formally withdrawn the academy orders for all 19 schools affected including Holy Family Catholic Primary School, in Worksop.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images).

He will instead await applications by governing bodies themselves.

The unions who took part in this action were school leaders’ union NAHT, the Association of School and College Leaders, the National Education Union, and Unison.

General secretary of NAHT, Paul Whiteman, said: “Becoming an academy can be a positive step for some schools.

"But it is only the governing body and leaders of a school that can truly understand if joining a multi-academy trust will be in the best interests of their pupils.

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"Compulsion can never be the right way to convince schools of this and the situation in Hallam has been badly mishandled. It has taken a serious toll on the leaders and governors of the schools affected and has been an unacceptable distraction during an especially difficult period of the pandemic.

"We will now press for a further independent investigation into went wrong.”

General secretary of the ASCL, Geoff Barton said: “We are pleased Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has withdrawn these academy orders but disappointed that they were issued in the first place and that it has taken the threat of legal action to address this situation.

“It is integral to the process that, other than in very specific circumstances, governing bodies must decide whether they want to academise and we hope the lesson has been learned that this principle must be followed.”

Joint general secretary of the NEU, Kevin Courtney said: “This is a victory for common sense, and an important line in the sand. Schools should not be forced or coerced into becoming an academy. There was no justification for these academy orders, and it is right that they have been withdrawn.”

Unison head of education Mike Short said: “This was the right decision, but this process should never been started in the first place. Unions have worked hard over the past few weeks to stop this unsettling and pointless exercise.

"Dedicated school staff could have done without the extra headache after all the anxiety of the past two years.

"It’s important nothing like this ever happens again. It must always be individual schools that decide what’s best for their pupils.”

A DfE spokesperson said new academy orders will be issues once formal applications are made by the relevant schools’ governing bodies.

It added that it had always been the case regional schools commissioners decisions were “one step” in conversion, which includes governor consent.

The Hallam Diocese has not yet commented.

READ MORE: Worksop school places: the number of children receiving their preferred secondary school, how to accept a place and what to do to appeal if you want to appeal

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