The diocese secured orders for the academy, set conversion dates, and began negotiations on staff and land transfers for its schools – without the consent of their governors.
The union warned of “utter mistrust” between some governors and heads and condemned the regional school commissioner for supporting the plans and incorrectly stating that the governors had approved them.
Since last January, the Catholic Diocese of Hallam has been working to consolidate its 47 schools in South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire into two new multi-academic trusts (MATs). It is one of several dioceses to receive special funding as part of a government pilot project to accelerate the academization of Christian schools.
Leaders say MAT will enable greater collaboration, career development, economies of scale and resources to help schools in difficulty.
Philip Patterson, director of the Hallam Diocese, said it reflected “the need to develop and secure Catholic education in the long term,” including the operation of joint Catholic-Anglican schools.
Carol Gray and Kate Copley, co-regional school commissioners (RSCs) for the East Midlands and the Humber, signed the new Catholic mats, St Francis and St Clare, at an advisory committee meeting last month.
Applications for the transfer and transfer of 19 voluntarily supported schools were also approved, as well as 23 unified academic trusts and five schools in the small Catholic MAT. The academy’s orders have since been sent to schools and relevant councils.
“They feel they have been deceived and misled”
But the National Association of Headteachers says the orders were a shock to some governors and heads involved – with a “large number” attending a union meeting last week to raise concerns.
“They feel deceived and seduced by the diocese,” said Rob Kelsall, a NAHT national officer. One head spoke of their “utter mistrust,” he added.
This week, the diocese began formally consulting the unions on behalf of the governing bodies on the transfer of staff to trusts. The letter states that his lawyers also wrote to council officials about “land problems and commercial transfer agreements”.
The correspondence states that the schools will “move to the status of the academy within the set deadlines”, some as early as April.
The RSC also sent a letter to the heads of councils, along with an order from the academy stating that the governors themselves had requested the conversion. The diocese did not dispute that it sought orders rather than governors, but stated that the letter simply used “standard wording”.
The RSC similarly told the NAHT that it was a “model” letter that schools could expect, and acknowledged that the governors did not approve the conversion, according to the union.
“The idea that the RSC is issuing orders to the academy on the pretext that governors could approve is ridiculous,” Kelsall said. He called for an inquiry and questioned why ministers had not done the same ten years ago for every school maintained.
Legal basis for the academy “not clear”
A source from a law firm working on conversions said: “Assuming that the schools concerned are not eligible for intervention and the governing bodies of the school have not requested orders, it is not clear on what legal basis the orders were issued. . “
The diocese is not the first to use controversial tactics in its academization. The Archdiocese of Birmingham was accused of “dictation rule” last year after telling schools to convert by September 2022.
Both government and Hallam officials acknowledged the need for the governor’s approval, but defended their approach.
Patterson said the academy’s order “will not apply and cannot be enacted until the governing body approves the conversion resolution,” and existing colleges would also have to approve the transfers. The schools were “fully informed of the need to take these next steps”.
A DfE spokesman said he remained committed to all schools to join the MAT, and the Catholic Church was a “long-term partner.”
“We are working with the Diocese of Hallam, which continues to do the same for its schools, in accordance with all legal requirements and our Memorandum of Understanding with the Catholic Church.”
All voluntarily supported schools were asked to comment.