PLANS to merge Coventry’s two most historic independent schools will “bring unnecessary uncertainty, disruption and stress” for many families already facing financial and emotional turmoil caused by Covid-19, claims a former headmaster.
George Fisher, who was head at King Henry VIII School for 10 years from 2000 to 2010, last month told the Observer of his ‘extreme sadness, shock and anger’ at the sudden announcement of a merger of between Bablake and King Henry VIII.
He said: “The proposal is particularly badly timed for many families who are already facing financial and emotional turmoil. For some the proposal will be a logistical nightmare as parents negotiate the city’s traffic system on a twice-daily basis.
“And let it be made clear that this proposal was not triggered by Covid-19; it was conceived months before the virus arrived on our shores. Above all pupils need to feel secure.”
The new amalgamated Coventry School is set to open next September as a single all-through fee-paying day school for 3 – 18-year-olds By September 2022, it is proposed all pupils will be on dedicated, age-specific campuses, including separate nursery provision at The Grange on the existing Bablake site.
Outlining its reasons to merge the two schools Coventry School Foundation has said it wishes to create “more choice and opportunity to every child”, “bring about efficiencies that mean we can make the required continual investment in our beautiful, historic buildings and new ones alike, housing state-of-the-art facilities; providing the very best technology, tools and personal development opportunities”. Additionally, it says, there will be more scope to broaden their already wide GCSE and A Level offer, academic, arts and sporting opportunities.
But Mr Fisher feels the element of parental choice and the small close-knit community feel of each school will disappear.
The former head, who has worked as a lead inspector for the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) since retiring and is currently a governor within the maintained sector, said: “Parents and their children are currently provided with choice as to whether Bablake or King Henry’s would better suit their needs, talents and abilities.
“This choice is to be removed at a stroke. Many families have long associations with one school or the other; now pupils will be shoe-horned into one hybrid, nameless and artificial construct.
“Additionally, pupils will now find themselves in much larger schools than exist now. For example, the senior school on the Bablake site is projected to accommodate around 1060 pupils. The most recent (2019) Independent Schools Council (ISC) data show that the average roll number in independent senior schools is 505.
“Pupils tend to thrive within smaller schools where they are known as individuals, and where everybody gets opportunities to represent their house or school. In larger schools it is inevitable that the ‘elite’ will tend to get most of the opportunities, whereas the less proficient musician, drama student or games player may get left out.
“The proposal by governors would make some sense if the planned merger were of two widget factories which were around one mile apart and both of which were seeking to manufacture the same product. Education, however, is slightly more nuanced than this!
“Supposed ‘economy of scale’ (one of the benefits suggested has been that stationery costs might be reduced within one school) is surely much less important than choice and opportunity. Governors are sacrificing both priceless assets at the altar of supposed ‘efficiency’.”
A new project website has been set up by Coventry School Foundation to provide progress updates with a timeline and FAQ section addressing a wide range of questions.
In response to a question asking why Coventry School Foundation (CSF) did not wait until next year to announce the merger because of Covid-19, it said: “We are very aware of the scale of disruption Covid-19 is causing and hugely appreciate of the efforts of all our pupils, teachers and families have made to ensure that valuable schooling continued during school closures earlier this year. However, with a return to pre-Covid-19 normality appearing to be a long way off, we believe it is important to move forward with strategic plans that will ensure the best possible future for our whole school community.”
Recently seen modelling by the Foundation Office projects a reduction of nearly 30% in the total pupil roll. Mr Fisher said: “This immediately sounds alarm bells because it means that the proposal significantly reduces the number of potential beneficiaries (pupils) of the charity.
“The express purpose of the Coventry School Foundation is to educate pupils between the ages of 3 and 18 and at a stroke the Foundation is apparently seeking to limit the number of these beneficiaries, presumably to generate a larger surplus?
Mr Fisher’s view is that the Charity Commission should therefore investigate whether the Coventry School Foundation is meeting its stated aims.