The Charity Tribunal has upheld the Charity Commission’s decision to allow two independent schools in Lancashire to merge, but directed the regulator to amend the scheme underpinning the merger so that the school cannot profit by using the premises for anything other than educating local children.
The Commission decided last November to allow the merger of the Arnold School in Blackpool, which is run by the United Church Schools Trust (USCT), with the King Edward VII and Queen Mary School (KEQMS) in nearby Lytham. The decision came in spite of around 100 objections from local campaigners calling themselves Friends of KEQMS Lytham.
The campaigners had claimed that negotiations about the merger were conducted in secrecy and there was no consultation with pupils, parents or staff. They billed the merger as a “takeover by the United Church Schools Trust” and warned that if the merger were permitted to proceed, pupils with special learning needs would not be adequately catered for, and that the new arrangement would not require Christian education.
After the Commission agreed to the merger, the Friends of KEQMS Lytham, represented by Raymond Aliss and Martin Hesketh, challenged the decision at the Charity Tribunal.
In its ruling published last week, the Tribunal rejected the campaigners’ argument that the two schools were so different that they should never have been allowed to merge. It also said their concern at the way in which the merger was announced and pursued was understandable, but not really relevant to the case.
The Tribunal decided that the property of the Lytham schools could be used more effectively to provide public benefit if the schools were combined, but also accepted that the existing terms of the lease creates a conflict of interest with the objects of the charity.
“For example, the premises of the KEQMS could be used for purposes other than the provision of a school that will benefit local residents and UCST could be in a position to gain a financial advantage from some changes of use,” the judges said.
“The Tribunal concludes that a modified scheme could provide more effectively for the charity property to be used for the public benefit in providing education in or near Lytham St. Annes.”
All parties to the case were given two weeks – until 31 May - to write to the Tribunal suggesting revisions to the scheme.
In response, a Charity Commission spokeswoman said: "We recognise that the Tribunal has upheld our decision subject to certain proposed amendments to the scheme. We will be looking at how this judgment can help inform our future work. "