This article contains copies of redacted sections of Meeting Minutes which I have been sent.
Back in November I reported that Catholic primary academies which were members of the Kent Catholic School Partnership, an Academy Trust, had been sent a formal letter from the Trust. This required them to follow a Diocesan policy which forbade them from hosting the Kent Test for their pupils on their own premises, on pain of possible disciplinary proceedings against headteachers. The letter had been sent at the request of the Archbishop of Southwark. It has since been retracted in a Position Statement from the Archbishop, after the policy proved extremely unpopular with some parents and schools, with the whole principle behind the ‘policy’ rejected.
The reversal of ‘policy’ began after the Directors of the Trust appear to have had an almighty row at a Board Meeting in December over the letter, and so it was agreed to pause implementation of the decision. At the meeting, the Director of Education for the Education Commission of the Diocese (ECD) reported that that ‘the tone of response which the Trust had received as a result (of the decision) may be nothing to that which he had also received’.
Last week, the ECD set out one of the clearest and best argued policy statements I have seen from an education body for years. This scrapped the previous requirement on the grounds that the ban was inoperable, discriminatory and not supported Canonically from the Bishops’ Conference, and so could not therefore be Diocesan policy.
Note: You will find a list of the 19 Kent Catholic Schools Partnership primary academies here.
The initial decision contained in the letter to schools, and passed on to parents in many cases, was discussed at two Meetings of the Board of Directors of the Trust, as explained in relevant excerpts of the Minutes here. These include redacted sections which I have also received.
Board Meeting, October 2019
The Board CEO, Clive Webster (CW: annual salary £155,000) explained at the first meeting in October that he had been made aware that several Trust resources and facilities had been used to facilitate the Kent Test (although this has surely been widely known for years). For this reason, he had written to all academies instructing them to cease supporting and facilitating the Kent Test to comply with Diocesan Policy. The Board members were clearly upset and considered the letter was unwise, regretting they had not been consulted about it, as they might well have decided it should not be sent. As the matter had not been deemed important enough to make the agenda and was only discussed as AOB, Simon Hughes (Director of Education at ECD) proposed it be re-visited at the December meeting.
Between the two meetings, Mike Powis, Chairman of the Board, and CW sent out a holding letter, acknowledging the concerns and putting in a pause to implement the policy until it had been discussed at the December Board meeting.
Board Meeting, December 2019
CW explained that he had written the original letter to support academy leaders who had requested a consistent approach to a policy issued in 2016. Simon Hughes (SH) considered the matter a complex one and ‘the communication to comply had, in his view, made life for all headteachers of Catholic schools in the South East and London more difficult, and the tone of response which the Trust had received as a result may be nothing to that which he had also received’. This last quotation comes from a redacted part of the Meeting Minutes.
In other words, a storm of protest as well as national media interest.
Also redacted: ‘SH considered he had been put in a difficult position, with the Archbishop seeking a way forward and the Archdiocese being accused of unfair discrimination, so that legal advice had had to be taken‘ (but not apparently offered at the meeting). He also considered the policy meant that ‘any headteacher of any school who had colluded with the Kent Test, may be open to disciplinary action’.
CW continued to support the decision, ‘highlighting that Catholic primary schools are the strongest primaries in Kent’. Therefore, ‘the quality of Catholic primary education still gave children the best chance of passing the test wherever it was taken’.
The meeting concluded with most members of the Board supporting academies being able to administer the Kent Test on-site where they chose to do so. This clearly clashed with the view of CW who considered that Diocesan policy should be followed whatever the policy may be.
Last week a Position Statement from the Education Commission of the Archdiocese of Southwark, signed by Most Rev John Wilson Archbishop of Southwark and Dr Simon Hughes, Director of Education, of the ECD was sent to Catholic Primary Schools. A copy is appended here. It is worthwhile reading in full as it contains a clear and comprehensive summary of the situation and of the Catholic approach to selective education.
Amongst the many valid points it makes, are the following:
The letter of 2016 that sets out the view that Catholic Schools should not offer the Kent Test on its own premises ‘has been deemed to be a statement of policy. It is not’. In any case is largely ignored with 16 out of 19 Trust primary schools supporting pupil’s participation in the Kent Test.
‘The Archdiocese concludes that it cannot resolutely reassert a policy that does not have universal validity, is not supported Canonically from the Bishops’ Conference and has clearly been inoperable for many years. That policy would, if enacted, discriminate against those families whose older children have been supported to undertake the Kent Test, but who, under the terms of the edict from the CEO of KCSP in September 2019, would see younger siblings prevented from taking the same test ‘ – all in all a strong condemnation of the original proposal.
‘Where parents conscientiously opt to enter their children for the selection process, headteachers should continue to promote the Catholic option but also continue to provide pastoral and academic support for the child’.
And in an attempt to excuse the original decision: ‘We wish to emphasise that the problem is selection at 11+, not the Archdiocese’s unwritten rule of thumb which was an historical attempt to preserve comprehensive Catholic secondary education for those whose skills, gifts and talents are not adequately assessed by the battery of tests at 11+’.
Succession of Pupils from Catholic Primary to Secondary Schools
And finally, from a Committee Meeting: ‘The Committee discussed the admission numbers of pupils from catholic primary schools and noted that there had been a poor succession of pupils progressing on to secondary schools in the Trust, from other primaries within the Trust’. Perhaps this is an explanation of why the whole misguided proposal came about, although it should be noted this is certainly not true of all schools. For example, the two excellent St John’s Catholic Schools in Gravesend work closely together seeing a transfer rate of some 70% from primary to secondary schools.