Introduction given at the Academy Strategy meeting of headteachers and governors at Church House, Westminster on 1 December 2016
Welcome to this historic event. Not often have so many from our schools come together and certainly not in this distinguished hall. It gives me the opportunity of thanking you all for your tremendous work in Catholic education, in the schools and colleges of our diocese. Please convey my thanks to your colleagues in school and on governing bodies.
Here, since 1850 schools have been central to the life and mission of the Church.
During this time, and especially since the 1944 Education Act, this mission has always involved a changing and challenging interface with Government. At no time has there been an unchanging environment which has simply left us free to get on with what we want to do.
Sometimes this interface has been constructive, as in the preparation for the ’44 Act. Mostly this environment has been shaped by difficulties in negotiation or resisting change, or, more recently, answering hostile critics.
This time is similar, although in recent days there is a growing acknowledgment of the effectiveness of Catholic education: today’s reports showing that our schools are points of effective social integration for children of other faiths.
Throughout all of this history, a great strength of Catholic education is that we have stood together, under the leadership of the bishops, and acted in a reasonably coordinated fashion. We have had our moments!
This is why the key point I want to make today, as we gather for this briefing on our way forward, is that we are one body, one family both in the mission we have been given and in the efforts we make to put it into practice effectively and gracefully. We are called to work together to seek the flourishing of all our schools and colleges in face of the current challenges and opportunities
I want to thank all those, and there are very many, who have contributed to the consultations: headteachers, governors, clergy and diocesan trustees. Those consultations have shaped the decisions we have taken.
You do not need me to tell you that at the centre of our efforts is the education of children in a way which meets all the profound vision of humanity illuminated by the vision and grace of the greatest gift of all: God’s Word in our flesh in Jesus. This is at the centre of all that we seek in this revision and reshaping of our efforts.
The requirements of developing our education around the patterns of the academy structure are demanding on us all. These requirements will bring change to us all, not least to the diocesan education service. Part of what lies before is the challenge of establishing effective partnerships between schools, within this new structure, well served by the overall diocesan service and especially by the establishment of the Academy Project Board.
But now I am beginning to stray into details. Yes, as bishops and trustees, we have examined these details carefully and over a considerable period of time. That is why I now confidently hand over to Director of Education Service, John Paul Morrison, who will take us into the details of our way forward.