So, the new Secretary of State has proclaimed his support for faith schools. Not surprising in view of his own education. Well, here is a challenge to Mr Hinds. Will he separate out schools run by faith groups with public money, but attended by a majority not professing the faith actively, and those schools run by the faith for their adherents?
The Church of England has long operated primary schools as the local schools for the village or community the school serves. As a national church and also the provider of education in many of these areas before the State became involved this has some rationale behind it. Parents in general value these schools, although many may be under threat from the new National Funding Formula unless enough attention is paid to their fortunes.
My question to the Secretary of State can be crystallised around the experiences of the Roman Catholic secondary school in East Oxford: St Gregory the Great. This school, according to the accounts of the Academy Company it is a part of, had only 30% professing Catholic Staff and 37% of its pupils as Catholics at the reporting point for the 2017 accounts. Two years ago, the school was put into financial special measures by the EFSC; last year Ofsted declared it inadequate. Another school run by the same Academy Company has recently also been declared inadequate. This week, when Ofsted paid a monitoring visit to St Gregory the Great, they will have found a school where the head and a deputy were removed at the end of the autumn term and another head placed in executive control from a different Catholic Academy Trust. So, Mr Hinds, how long do you give St Gregory the Great to improve and what are your plans if the Catholic Church cannot improve the school? The parents of non-Catholic pupils have a right to know what you are going to do to improve the education of their children. Will it have access to part of your £45 million fund?
You cannot blame the local authority. Indeed, you can look at the steps the local authority took to deal with another secondary school in the county declared inadequate at the same time as St Gregory the Great (see blog post, https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/a-tale-of-two-schools/) The outcomes seem to be very different. Can the local authority access your fund as part of helping schools improve if no MAT volunteers to do so?
Mr Hinds, St Gregory the Great and the future of the Academy Company it belongs to, provide an early test of whether what you say in The Times newspaper are words not backed by actions or have the force of someone prepared to act on their beliefs.
I am passionate to see good education for all children in Oxfordshire. I hope you will help me achieve this aim by acting swiftly to raise standards at St Gregory the Great. By your actions shall you be known. A Minister of Education in the 1940s once intervened because a school wasn’t holding a daily assembly, despite its hall having been bombed and out of use. Intervene in St Gregory and reassure everyone the plan for improvement is workable. You can have the Ofsted report on your desk by Monday if you ask for it following their monitoring visit this week.