Unions threaten legal action over forced ‘academisation’ of 19 Catholic schools – including two in Chesterfield

Unions representing staff in 19 schools across the Catholic Diocese of Hallam – which includes two in Chesterfield – have written to the education secretary to begin legal action over attempts to force them to join Multi-Academy Trusts.

Wednesday, 9th February 2022, 2:22 pm

All Voluntary Aided schools in the Catholic Diocese of Hallam were issued letters by the Regional Schools Commissioner – who works directly for the secretary of state for education, Nadhim Zahawi – on December 15 last year.

The Diocese – which covers South Yorkshire and parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire – propose to convert or transfer all schools, including existing stand-alone academies and existing trusts, into two newly formed Catholic Multi-Academy Trusts.

If successful, the order would see St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Upper Newbold, Chesterfield, and St Joseph’s Catholic and C of E Primary School in Staveley among those forced to become academies.

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If successful, the order would see St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Upper Newbold, Chesterfield, and St Joseph’s Catholic and C of E Primary School in Staveley among those forced to become academies. Pictured is St Mary's School's headteacher Nicola Brown

Describing the move as unlawful, unions said the only way schools can be forced to become academies is if they are eligible for intervention and none of the schools in Hallam are currently in this category.

The education secretary can only issue an academy order on the application of the governing body of the school.

But, according to the governing bodies for the schools, this never happened and they did not agree to begin the process of academisation.

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Unions representing these schools – including school leaders’ union NAHT, the National Education Union, the Association of School and College Leaders, and UNISON – say that the letters were therefore issued unlawfully, and, unless they are withdrawn by Mr Zahawi, further legal action will be taken.

In their letter to Mr Zahawi, the unions state: “We understand that the governing bodies of these schools have not applied to the Secretary of State for academy orders. The Academy Orders appear to have been made on the application of and/or at the behest of the Diocese.

“The Secretary of State is invited to confirm in writing that the Academy Orders are void and of no effect, and to notify the Diocese, the Schools and the local authorities responsible for maintaining the Schools that the Academy Orders are void and of no legal effect.”

Emma Roberts, schools lead for UNISON East Midlands, said: “Becoming an academy needs to be a school community decision. Bypassing due process and the opinions of educators and hardworking support staff does nothing for morale or the success of a journey.

"Schools in the East Midlands affected by these decisions have our full support. I hope for a swift response from the Secretary of State for Education rectifying this unlawful action.”

Mike Short, UNISON head of education, said: “Trying to force through mass changes to academy status is not only wrong-headed, it’s a complete distraction at a time like this. School staff have been working wonders to keep schools open throughout the pandemic and are continuing to do so despite dangerously high Covid rates.

"These dedicated employees can well do without this extra stress after putting their own health, and that of their families, at risk for the past two years.”

The Hallam diocese has been contacted for comment.

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