Planned merger of Coventry’s two historic independent schools will be 'damaging for pupils', 'elitist' and 'cause huge difficulties for parents', say opponents - The Coventry Observer

14th Aug, 2022

Planned merger of Coventry’s two historic independent schools will be 'damaging for pupils', 'elitist' and 'cause huge difficulties for parents', say opponents

Editorial Correspondent 4th Mar, 2021 Updated: 4th Mar, 2021

A FORMER head teacher at poet Philip Larkin’s 476-year-old school has attacked governors’ reasons for the controversial proposed merger with its city rival as “nonsense!”

King Henry VIII School and Bablake School are planned to merge into one all-through school for pupils, aged three to 18, this September.

George Fisher, who was headmaster at King Henry VIII between 2000 and 2010, is highly critical of Coventry School Foundation (CSF), the educational charity which manages the two historic independent co-educational schools.

He said: “Comments by the CSF do not stand up to scrutiny. Assertions that the merger will provide more choice and opportunity are hollow in the extreme. If the proposal goes ahead about 50% of the pupils will not be going to the school which they and their parents chose, surely an absolutely fundamental right?

“Overall opportunities in larger schools are actually reduced compared with those in two slightly smaller schools.  Instead of two orchestras there will be one as well as one age-group cricket team instead of two. There appears to be a complete lack of understanding as to what parents want and how schools work. This proposal will be damaging for  pupils and cause huge difficulties for parents.

“And now governors have explained that the merger is ‘necessary because of a reduced demand for independent schools in the area’. Nonsense! Evidence from all the other neighbouring independent schools such as Solihull, the Warwick Schools and Princethorpe confirms that numbers in all year groups are buoyant and that applications are actually increasing.

“In part, this is because independent schools in general have performed so well in adapting their teaching to the online requirements of the ‘Covid world’. Some parents are therefore worried that their child will be lagging behind if they stay within the maintained sector, leading nationally to an uptake in demand for independent schooling.”

The ‘difficult but necessary’ decision to amalgamate the two schools, which each charge just over £12,000 in annual fees, has been met with hostility among a number of parents, pupils, alumni and former staff at both schools. A petition to ‘Stop the Coventry Schools merger ‘ has been signed by more than 3,200 people.

Paul Fernandez-Montes, chair of the Old Coventrians (the King Henry VIII Former Pupils’ Association), has been “overwhelmed ” by the countless messages from ex-pupils objecting to the merger proposal.

Mr Fisher is further enraged that the foundation governing body “appears intent on making its ‘one school’ elitist”.

He said: “It will become more selective, both by ability and ‘social mix’, less inclusive and more and more remote from the city’s youngsters whom it is supposed to serve.

“What is needed within the CSF is new and re-invigorated leadership, together with a root and branch overhaul of governance. The CSF needs to look inwards not outwards to address the source of its problems.

“Specifically, governance within the CSF has failed in its responsibilities to stake-holders by:

“Too much power and authority being vested in a small number of governors and Foundation staff

“Failing to ensure that the scheme of governance is properly adhered to, with significantly fewer governors than the scheme requires, a clear majority being Bablake ‘affiliates’; this reduces the likelihood of balanced debate or challenge for controversial proposals

“An unwillingness to recruit nationally to secure permanent leadership for any of the schools in the Foundation

“Jeopardising correct procedure through conflicts of interest both in the relationships between senior staff and governors and in the awarding of building contracts

“Allowing an acute imbalance in the levels of ‘spend’ in King Henry VIII and Bablake Schools over a five-year time period, meaning that KHVIII now requires significant levels of investment to bring it back up to standard.

“Above all, governance has failed to listen to the legitimate concerns of beneficiaries or to answer the many, many questions which have been asked.”

A spokesperson for Coventry School Foundation issued the following statement in response:

“Bablake and King Henry VIII schools have proudly served Coventry and the wider region for over 1,150 years combined, offering an excellent independent education, with ambition for each and every pupil.

“Throughout that time our schools have been on a continuous journey of adaptation, responding to the varying demands and circumstances of their time. Then, as now, decisions have been taken based on balancing the educational needs of current families with the imperative to be sustainable for generations of families to come. Against the backdrop of lowering demand for independent education in our region, which has already seen other schools’ groups take the decision to consolidate, our Foundation took the difficult, but necessary, decision to do likewise.

“Restructuring our two schools into the new Bablake and King Henry VIII School gives us the opportunity to bring together the best of what we do now and create something even better. 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 many have already been involved in important decisions about our new name, uniform, vision and values. We have also invited pupils and others to be involved in activities such as designing new school and House ties, researching and proposing new House names, and making presentations about the significance of those names to the whole school community.

“We understand that some of our stakeholders have been disappointed by our decision to restructure the schools, and this may be what has led to complaints to the Charity Commission, which has prompted them to open a regulatory compliance case. We take our responsibilities as a charity very seriously and we are co-operating fully with the Charity Commission’s fact-finding work. 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 will continue to reach out to our whole community and invite them to be involved as we prepare for opening in September 2021.”

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