The new term is now well underway and it is clear that we have come back to no less challenging times. At the point of writing, we can see from press reports, anecdotal evidence and feedback from schools across the diocese that the virus has not gone away. This is something we all knew was likely to be the case but it means we now have some choppy waters ahead. Perhaps earlier than we might have hoped for, we have started to see partial closures, individuals and sometimes classes or year groups being told to self-isolate, with all the repercussions for schools, pupils and parents that this entails. This is now affecting one in six schools across the country and we do not fully know what the implications may be for the mental health of the nation.
I would like to acknowledge the enormous efforts that all school leaders are making across our schools and thank you directly for all that you continue to do. School leaders have been put in unprecedented situations through lockdown and the re-opening of schools. What you have managed to achieve has been magnificent and needs to be acknowledged. Catholic school leaders not only lead a school, they lead a faith community. This is something that other school leaders across the country do not have to do, so in a sense the burden of responsibility is greater for you.
Each school is in our thoughts and prayers and our team of link advisers are available by the usual means of contact to offer support and advice where relevant. In light of the extended restrictions, as a result of Covid-19 and the ongoing government requirements for social distancing, Brentwood Diocesan Education Service (BDES) are operating a ‘blended approach’ to the delivery of our provision. This means there are some face-to-face Link Adviser visits and interview processes, in line with the schools’ own risk assessments, but this will be kept under review.
Face-to-face training, celebrations and larger meetings are cancelled for the Autumn term 2020. Training is therefore being rolled out online and meetings are also being held in this way. We have been working hard to develop a range of on-line training courses that will be delivered via Zoom and we have continued our work in the development of courses for the GIFT-Ed App. More free licenses will also become available for School leaders and Governors again this academic year. More information will follow shortly about the various training opportunities that will be available. On-line booking will follow the same pattern that we introduced last year. We still hope to be able to run Governor, Headteacher and Deputy Headteacher conferences later this academic year. We recognise that they may have to be virtual conferences.
I would like to welcome 13 new Heads who have taken up a post in the Diocese of Brentwood this academic year. What a year to start in headship, what a challenge lies ahead. I can assure you of our continued support. We will do all that we can to be available for you if you need it.
Brentwood Diocesan Education Service (BDES):
We have a team of experienced people in place who will continue to work with the same groups of schools once again this year. We have opted for continuity in these challenging times but we are looking for new ways of working and new opportunities to build the level of support available. One area that I think will be significant over the next couple of years will be in relation to buildings, with capital and energy efficiency projects helping to improve the school estate and to realise financial benefits for schools.
Working with the CES in the interests of Catholic Education:
The CES has a unique role as a senior State partner, alongside the Anglican Church, in the delivery of a statutory service. Its timetables and workload are therefore largely determined by others. In moments of crisis, Governments increase their work with partners in order to resolve issues which arise. This has meant that CES attendance is required at more additional meetings and regular existing meetings have increased in frequency, e.g. From monthly to weekly with DfE officials and increased frequencies of meetings with the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for the School System. The CES have had a number of urgent areas on which to make representation, including home-to-school transport, grant allocations for denominational inspections, support for Catholic Universities and the reopening of schools. Without CES involvement in these meetings there would be no representation of the Catholic school system to ensure that Catholic school needs are met.
The CES has been scrutinising the increased stream of legislation published as a result of COVID-19, including the regulations arising from the powers provided to the Secretary of State in England and Welsh Ministers. The scrutiny is wider than usual because of the wide and general scope of this unprecedented legislation. In addition, the DfE has been issuing guidance to schools on a range of issues such as school closure and ongoing operation of schools to support children of key workers and vulnerable children. It is also necessary to scrutinise the guidance on changes to employment provisions, including the impact of COVID-19 on holiday pay; and in relation to governance, school admission appeals and funding. This guidance requires CES scrutiny to ensure that it is fit for purpose in Catholic schools.
The pandemic has also created a need for greater support for dioceses and their schools. The unprecedented times mean that dioceses are required to operate and support schools on topics with little guidance or prior experience. Because there is not prior experience of operating a school system in a global pandemic, it has also been necessary to increase the information sharing between schools, dioceses and the CES so that the CES is able to articulate the experience of Catholic schools and dioceses to the Government. Through weekly DSC meetings the CES has gathered information and examples to feed into significant discussions and briefing of DfE officials, Ministers, Education Select Committee inquiries and Parliamentarians. These meetings and briefings ensure that experiences of Catholic schools are continually represented to decision makers to help ensure that any guidance or Government support addresses the concerns of the Catholic school sector. The Diocese has acted as a conduit so that relevant information can also flow back from the CES to schools.
After 25 years of dedicated service to Catholic education in the Diocese of Brentwood Sr Jude has decided that the time is right for her to retire. I am immensely grateful for the fantastic contribution that she has made and the support she has given to me as Diocesan Director of Education. I know that Sr Jude was a great support for Fr George as well before I joined the Diocese. We will miss her energy and determination to do the best she can for the children in our schools. I look forward to working with Sr Jude between now and 31st December 2020 and also to remaining in contact with Sr Jude beyond that date. I hope that the restrictions will allow us to do something to celebrate her incredible contribution before she finishes. Whatever happens I know that Sr Jude will see it as part of God’s plan. Thank you Sr Jude.
I would like to invite self-nominations for a place on the Diocesan Board of Education. Bishop Alan will consider any nominations received. We currently have three school leaders on this board and would like to expand this number during this academic year. At this stage, all that is required is a short email expressing interest. Please email me directly by Friday 23rd October if you wish to self-nominate.
Development of MATs:
Much work has been done in this area and we are now in the position where six Catholic MATs exist in the Diocese of Brentwood. We will continue to work with schools in order to realise the vision that Bishop Alan has for the Diocese. On the 1st September another three schools joined two of the existing trusts. Holy Family (Witham) and St Joseph’s (Harwich) joined the Rosary Trust. St Anthony’s (Forest Gate) joined Our Lady of Grace Trust. Stephen Adamson as our MAT Development Officer will continue to support schools directly going forward as and when they need it.
We have previously written to schools about the adoption of the Governors Code of Conduct. This should now be in place in all schools across the diocese. We also wrote in relation to the Instrument of Government. These only exist for VA schools because Academies and MATs have a Scheme of Delegation instead. We were aware that some Instruments of Government that had not been updated for some time and were not in line with CES model guidance on this area. The updated Instrument of Government was highlighted for schools given legal advice on Governance that the CES provided. Please can you ensure that if you have an Instrument of Government that it has been updated. If you need any help with this please contact Debbi Botham by email at [email protected].
We have an expectation that the Chair and Vice Chair roles are filled by Foundation Governors. It is certainly custom and practice and the Department for Education have acknowledged the practice over the years. The Governing Bodies’ occupation of the school site is subject to compliance with the Diocesan Trust Deed, which sets out the powers of the Bishop (under cannon law). These powers are widely drafted and in essence schools must comply with the wishes of the Bishop. Where these are to be formally stated they are usually set out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or Directive, and that is the case here.
Governors terms of office last for 4 years and as set out in the MOU, Foundation Governors should not seek re-appointment beyond their third term of office. It is worth stating this because a question comes up about this most years. It is also worth highlighting that Foundation Governors need to be practising Catholics with the support of a Parish Priest. The Parish Priest’s role is to confirm that the prospective Foundation Governor is indeed a practising Catholic.
This remains a not for profit exercise and ultimately any surplus is given back to schools in the form of a rebate or a reduction of the levy. Last year we were able not to invoice schools once again for the summer term, therefore effectively reducing the levy by a third. The Diocese also continues to contribute in a significant way, which I quantified for you in the summer term despite some difficult times. I am therefore able to confirm that there is no planned change to the levy for this year. We will be looking to issue a charge later this term, however as promised we will, wherever possible, always look to find ways of reducing the levy and offering more support and training where the opportunity arises.
Reserved appointments – Appointment of Catholics:
During the year, schools will no doubt be advertising, interviewing and appointing a number of new staff. The Diocese needs to be informed about and represented at all appointments of reserved posts. Given the importance of Catholic Leadership roles the diocese should be involved in the shortlisting and interview process for these posts. To be clear, reserved posts are those posts to which only a Catholic in good standing with the Church may be appointed. These posts include CAO, Executive Headteacher, Headteacher, Deputy Headteacher (or any other post where the person concerned would be second in the chain of command – in some cases this may be Assistant Headteacher), Head of Religious Education and teachers of RE in Secondary Schools. In line with the Memorandum on the Appointment of Teachers, from the Bishops Conference of England and Wales (2014) it is a requirement across the country that CES contracts are used for all who are employed in Catholic schools and that associated documentation like CES Application Forms are also used when running any appointment process. Any significant potential changes to the CES contract must be agreed with the Diocese before it is issued. The Diocese may also in turn seek clarification on proposed changes to contracts with the CES. If in any doubt please talk to your link adviser in the first instance.
We are from time to time approached by Local Authorities in relation to representation on Schools Forum and other panels and groups. We are unable to fill all of these positions centrally from Cathedral House and anyway it is usually better to involve people locally, who know the area really well. We know that in some parts of the Diocese there is a changing demographic and this is something we need to keep an eye on so that we can plan for the long term future of our schools. Working with the Diocese and acting as a representative of the Diocese with a Local Authority will enable planning to be most effective. If you would like to express an interest in this area please contact [email protected] .
And finally …
Thank you all again for all that you are doing in our Catholic schools. We know that you have concerns and challenges every day. We know that it is difficult to sustain and motivate staff because everyone is facing the challenges of the pandemic in their personal lives as well as in their professional lives. The mismatch in terms of the numbers of contacts with others between the two settings is lost on no one. At this difficult time we need the support of each other. We need our friends, families and colleagues in order to get through as best we can. Our Catholic faith teaches respect for the dignity of all human life. It also recognises that God has a purpose and a plan for everyone and as we come to the end of each day we must try not to lose sight of this.
Director of Education