The Bishop of Worcester asked a question concerning Church of England schools and the government’s Schools White Paper on 29th March 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I echo the noble Lord, Lord Storey, in his thanks for the White Paper. In doing so, I declare my interest as president of the Woodard Corporation. In expressing gratitude, I appreciate in particular how the White Paper recognises the vital role the Churches have played in the educational landscape of this country for more than 200 years and that it sets out how the role needs to continue to be enabled in the future development of the school system. I will focus on two questions regarding the move towards the fully academised educational landscape set out in the White Paper and invite the Minister to agree that it requires two key things.
First, it requires significant investment of resource to make that transition possible. The Church of England is the largest provider of academies, with over 1,500 of our schools having already converted, but that still leaves two-thirds of our schools waiting to become academies. This will require time and resource for the conversion process, as well as strong, new trusts to be formed to enable that transition. Recognition that MATs must grow to a sustainable level of about 7,500 pupils means thinking carefully and strategically about small rural schools and how a funding model can work for them, to enable their vital education to remain at the heart of communities, particularly rural communities, across our land.
Secondly, I hope the noble Baroness can give assurance that legislation will be introduced to ensure that the statutory basis on which the dual system of Church and state as partners in education, which has been in operation since 1944, securely translates into the contractual context in which academies are based, so that the sites on which schools are situated can continue to be used for the charitable purposes for which they were given. So, in expressing thanks, I ask the noble Baroness to assure us that these things will be addressed and secured in order to ensure that Church schools can approach this new future with confidence.
Baroness Barran (Con): I thank the right reverend Prelate for his questions. I also extend my thanks to Church schools but also to all schools that have been working in the most difficult circumstances, particularly in the second half of this term, with the pressures that Covid has placed, once again, on their staff. I can, I hope, reassure the right reverend Prelate that we will be protecting the faith designation of diocesan schools on a statutory basis as we move forward with our plans. We are providing funding to support academisation and to make sure that schools, particularly schools in the most entrenched areas of educational underperformance, are funded to join strong trusts.