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You are here: Home » Schools » Rumbold of the Bailey?

Rumbold of the Bailey?

publication date: Jun 30, 2006
author/source: R Taylor

The closure of Parsons Mead School by trustees of the Vernon Educational Trust (VET) has all the hallmarks of a bitter dispute that will most likely end up in litigation.

The trustees claim that the school, which has just 200 students, is uneconomic and must close within the month. The announcement has been met with outrage by parents who have complained to the Charities Commission that the trustees of VET have failed to act in the best interests of the school. Unfortunately, their argument is somewhat undermined by the fact that the school was already in financial difficulties before VET arrived and that the governors had recommended it in preference to an offer by Cognita - described as an ‘unsolicited takeover bid from a profit making company’ in the Parsons Mead Educational Trust (PMET) annual report.

VET say the school is not viable with its current enrolment of 200 students and would need at least 325 students to be viable. This may well be the case, but one would assume VET knew this last year and that in taking on responsibility for Parsons Mead they were confident of achieving the necessary 60% increase in enrolment. If not, then the trustees are going to have an uphill battle explaining what criteria they used to make their decision – vain hope or a prayer to some higher authority? What seems even more strange, is that a quick look at the Charities Commission website shows that the school was only marginally profitable for two years since 1998.

Some parents have claimed that VET’s real intent was to gain control of PMET and the school, so that they could close it, benefiting nearby Danes Hill School, also run by VET. These claims have been strenuously denied by Dame Angela Rumbold, a trustee of VET and PMET (which she chairs). What seems to give some weight to these claims is that records lodged with the Charities Commission show the two trusts share an amazing number of trustees (twelve), the same company secretary (Mr William Frederick House), auditors (Mazars) and insurers (HSBC).

With so much overlap it is hard to see how either body could have formed a quorum to make independent decisions if all the trustees with a potential conflict of interest had been forced to recuse themselves at meetings? Dame Angela is very well known in the education community and also chairs the United Learning Trust, currently developing nine Academy schools.

Whatever happens, Parsons Mead will close unless it’s taken over by a group of parents or a company like Cognita. Whether either actually group decides to bid will be driven by the viability of the school as a business. But any buyer will also have to consider the potential impact of the proposed changes to the Charities Act, as well as any potential investigation by the Charities Commission. Chris Woodhead, Chairman of Cognita, has confirmed to the assignment that Cognita had wanted to discuss Parson Mead with VET, but that the trustees, ‘have not wanted to meet’.

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