Grantham Journal column: Dogma is letting our children down
Benjamin Franklin famously said that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest” and here in Grantham we are fortunate to have some of the best schools in the region. However, all is not entirely right in the local education landscape as religious dogma is letting down Grantham children. Lincolnshire County Council is committed to working with schools and academies to champion the needs of children and young people and we work hard to safeguard and promote their best interests. The rise in the number of Multi-Academy Trusts, who are now in receipt of a very significant level of funding from the public purse and who are responsible for the standard of education in their schools, makes fulfilling this role very complex.
We all expect schools, of whatever flavour, to deliver excellent outcomes for their pupils and this is now overseen directly by the Department for Education, with little local accountability to the local education authority. Whilst Lincolnshire County Council will make representation to Trusts and the Department for Education, the responsibility for intervening when academies and Trusts underperform lies squarely with the Regional School Commissioner.
In most cases, the academies and Trusts that operate within the county do an effective job in delivering the very best outcomes for our young people. However, here in Grantham, the performance of West Grantham St John’s and St Hugh’s remains highly concerning despite the ongoing commitment of the school staff. It is simply not acceptable that children are being denied the education they so desperately need for the 21st Century all because religious bodies believe they have a divine right to run schools and retain the assets (land, buildings, etc). How can it be that despite the best efforts of staff and pupils, the management of West Grantham Academy St Hugh’s is content with being one of the worst performing schools in the country? There is a clear model elsewhere with schools coming together to support each other and share resources. I am frustrated that a national agreement between the department for education and Church of England means that the Regional School Commissioner is unable to take decisive action. The agreement means that the Church of England, through the Diocesan Board of Education, can stop other education academies and trusts who are strong and who deliver good education from supporting failing church schools. They tend to do so when the Trust does not meet their specific requirements with regard to religious character. In Grantham, this means that we are in a protracted period of drift and delay despite the fact there are very strong willing partners with proven track records who could work with the West Grantham Schools to deliver improved outcomes for our children and young people.
I would like to see the Church of England, through the Diocesan Board of Education and the Regional School Commissioner, take prompt action so our children get the education they deserve and desperately need. As a locally accountable politician, I will continue to challenge the status quo and press for a better deal for young people in our area.