31st Jul, 2021

Charity Commission looks into proposals for historic independent schools merger in Coventry

Editorial Correspondent 16th Feb, 2021 Updated: 16th Feb, 2021

THE Charity Commission has opened a case looking at the proposed merger of two historic independent schools in Coventry following opposition to the plans.

A merger between King Henry VIII and Bablake Schools was announced by Coventry School Foundation, the educational charity responsible for the governance of both schools, last October.

The Charity Commission confirmed it has opened a fact-finding compliance case, assessing that information they have. It is not a statutory inquiry or a finding of wrongdoing.

A spokesperson said: “We have opened a regulatory compliance case to examine concerns relating to this matter and we are currently engaging with the trustees. We cannot comment further at this.”

Julia McNaney, Chair of Governors, Coventry School Foundation said: “The Foundation takes its responsibilities as a charity very seriously and we are co-operating fully with the Charity Commission.

“We are confident that the Commission will find that we have acted in line with our charitable aims and objectives and to enable the charity to continue to serve local young people for many years to come.

“We understand that some of our alumni stakeholders have been disappointed by our decision to restructure our two schools and that this is what may be driving complaints to the Commission.

“Preserving traditions and community, while investing in the future to create new opportunities for families, is at the heart of our approach. There is a place for all stakeholders in the new Bablake and King Henry VIII School and we will continue to reach out to our whole community and invite them to be involved.”

Opponents of the intended merger have expressed their ‘relief’ that the Charity Commission is investigating the regulatory proposals by the Trustees of the Coventry School Foundation.

Revd. Dr Bob Stephen, Rector of the Parish of Handsworth and Chair of Governors at the two schools, said that he had no doubt that the Commission would be thorough in its scrutiny of the governors’ decision-making.

He said: “So far the Foundation has been unwilling to share any documentation with me or other stake-holders, and the Commission will undoubtedly wish to look at Minutes of the governors’ meetings, and whether or not any alternative proposals were given proper consideration.”

He feels a range of credible alternatives would ensure the future of King Henry VIII as a school providing an excellent all-round education for 7 to 18 year-old pupils at the Warwick Road site.  “However, I believe that with new leadership the current model can still work perfectly well.”

Paul Fernandez-Montes, chair of the Old Coventrians (the King Henry VIII Former Pupils’ Association), has received countless messages from former pupils of King Henry’s objecting to the merger proposal.

He said: “I have been overwhelmed by the strength of feeling against the proposed merger, and I remain bewildered at the lack of any attempt by the governors to provide a proper justification for the proposal.”

George Fisher, formerly headmaster of King Henry VIII School, has identified weaknesses in governance and a failure to explain or justify the proposed merger.

He said: “The governing body is well below strength at the moment, making it possible for a small group of people to ‘carry’ an idea without being properly held to account by their peers.

“Wherever I ‘dig’ I seem to find shifting sands, with nobody appearing to know when the decision to propose the merger was actually made, nor what advantages the new model is supposed to confer.

“The recently released staffing model for the new senior school suggests only a small reduction in the numbers of teaching staff, with any cost savings being off-set by mushrooming numbers of non-teaching posts within the Foundation Office. This begs the question: what is this process really about?

“King Henry’s and Bablake are very different types of independent school from Warwick or Solihull.  The Coventry schools have always prided themselves on a ‘no nonsense’ approach to independent schooling with fees being significantly lower than others in the surrounding area.

“The stated wish of the governors to improve facilities may sound laudable, but the reality is that there will be fewer beneficiaries, fee levels will be higher, heritage will be lost, and pupils will have to trek backwards and forwards across the city.”

“My message to all of those who care about the schools is to ‘keep shouting’ and your voice will be heard.”

He also noted there were numerous Bablake parents who had similar misgivings about the proposals but felt that they had no outlet for their views.

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