Bourne United Charities statement in full over school’s academy bid

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TODAY we publish Bourne United Charities statement in full about why it has objected to Bourne Grammar School’s bid to become an academy.

The charity owns part of the school site and the grammar school needs its permission to apply for the status.

The statement was sent to Bourne Grammar School before being released to the press and explains how the charity came to make its decision.

The statement reads:

Introduction

The Bourne United Charities (BUC) has received all the relevant documents concerning the Bourne Grammar School’s (BGS) intention to apply for Academy status. The Trustees are grateful to the School Chairman, Mr David Briggs-Fish, for meeting with the Trustees to explain the rationale for the application and to the Headmaster, Mr Jonathan Maddox, for taking the time to meet the BUC Chairman, Mr Robert Brown.

General

At the meeting with the BGS Chair there was concern about a change in admission policy and that raising the pass mark would mean the school becoming less accessible to Bourne students. However, at a meeting of the Governors the following statement was made in their framework. ‘Recognising the School’s history and its location within the town and community of Bourne, the Governors wish the admission arrangements (insofar as these can be influenced by the wishes of the Governors) to be written to reflect those in force at present’. This is reassuring to those parents who have contacted about this point but does not necessarily mean it will not be changed at a future date.

The BUC recognises the attainment of standards that pupils at the school have made over many years. They also recognise that the students are the priority. However, the aim is to use additional funding available but it is stated on the Department of Education’s website that becoming an Academy should not be about financial gain or loss. The sum/pupil mentioned in the schools questionnaire of £462 has already been substantially reduced.

Deliberation

Against the proposal

The place for the BUC to start in consideration of Academy Status is that we must be clear about the BUC’s role and responsibility. We have understood that our responsibility was to appoint four Trustees (five, including the Vicar who is ex officio) to the Bourne Education Foundation (BEF) to be governors of the School. As a result of this that we must be given the opportunity to vote on whether we should allow the School to apply for Academy status.

However, our responsibility also has an historic dimension, for we provided the funds for the Local Education Authority (LEA) to purchase the land upon which the school would be built. They in turn gifted the land back to us. We were the originators of the 1916 and 1921 Schemes which set out the aim and character of the school, providing Grammar School education in Bourne, and offering it to children from away who wished to board there.

Our concern therefore must be to maintain the legal framework for the provision of a selective Grammar School education for all in Bourne and its Designated Travel Area (DTA) of three miles, and who attain the minimum successful attainment level (220 at 11+). Our concern must also be to protect the function and historic responsibilities of the BEF, which would be lost at the point of ceasing to be a Grammar School and becoming an Academy. This change in legal status would make the BEF a ‘shell’ charity with no trustees. It would not be able to disburse monies to the Robert Manning, Westfield, Abbey Road and Willoughby schools in Bourne, manage the Old Grammar School or manage the administration and forward-planning of its finances.

To lose Grammar School Legal Status is to lose local democratic accountability through the LEA, Town Council, and County Council. To lose Grammar School Legal Status means that should the school stop being an Academy for whatever reason, under the present legal position, it would have no legal status. It would not revert to being a Grammar School. It would be a school whose status would be determined by Westminster legislation. There is no guarantee of retaining admission or selection policy. There would be no enshrined admission or selection policy. BUC would have no right of veto if there is no BEF. The government could, under the present settlement, simply designate the School a comprehensive. That would leave two comprehensives in one town.

To retain Grammar School legal status is to continue to honour the 1921 Scheme, by ensuring the continuity of local accountability. It ensures the long term continuation of the preferred admission and selection policy and curriculum because current legislation provides a rigorous and exhaustive procedure for any school seeking to opt out. At present, we are the ones who have been the ‘rigorous and exhaustive’ procedure – and have been able to be much more thorough in exploring the pros and cons than any other secondary school seeking Academy status in Lincolnshire.

Academy status selling points are as follows:

The main selling points concern more capitation money and the greater independence of the School. We respond to each as follows:

1. More money: In reality the LA budget for 2011/12 will remain the same and all 6th Forms – academy and otherwise – will undergo cuts next year. The Government is also looking at a new funding formula for all schools next year.

2. Independence: Independence means much more than simply throwing off the shackles of the Local Authority (LA). An Academy is set up as follows:

A trust is set up whereby a number of trustees are appointed. They in turn appoint a specified number of directors who are the school governors, answerable to the Trustees of the Trust. The Trustees are not accountable to the Charity Commission, to whom they do not file accounts. Accounts are to be filed at Companies House. The Trustees would in practise be accountable to the Secretary of State for Education.

Other related issues - Any current undertakings in the Head or Chair of Governors cannot be binding upon the Trustees of the new Academy Trust. The only way to make it so would be for them to be enshrined in the Articles of Association of the Trust, and for there to be a perpetual majority of BUC – appointed Trustees on the Board of Trustees of the Academy Trust. The same holds true for a guaranteeing of the availability of a Grammar School education for all Bourne area children who attain the minimum pass rate at the 11+.

Once an Academy, the BEF and BUC would no longer have any direct say, unless there was a built-in majority (see above.) There would be no direct representation of the town and its interest in education policy at the new Academy.

The Grammar School have not proved their case beyond reasonable doubt. The current Chairman of the Governors is very open in his opposition to the need for the community of Bourne to have any weight in determining educational policy. He seems to believe that money unsecured on a sound budgetary basis over seven years is the means to achieve academic excellence. He sees no point to the BEF or to BUC having any input into the discussion, and sees them as an anachronism.

Our role in the BUC is to seek to guarantee the education historically offered by Bourne Grammar School not only in the short term, but for the longer term. We need to ask the question, “Do we want a Grammar School in the town or not?” A Grammar School is the only way to ensure that there is a broad and rich opportunity for education in the town at secondary level. There is no assured way back should Academies prove unsustainable either politically or economically. The many educational changes over the past 20 years have worked to a lesser or greater degree because the 1944 Education Act provided a framework of recognised parameters within which education operated. Academies have changed this by ending financial and administrative accountability to local democratically elected bodies such as the Town Council and the Education Authority.

Is it prudent use of our influence on education policy in the town to sacrifice a known legal status to an initiative whose eventual outcome is unknown and untested, and over which we shall have little control?

It was pointed out that a significant number of excellent grammar schools have decided not to apply for academy status. It is thought that children have to be taken ‘as you find them’. A pass level at 11+ should be decided on and every child who then goes to Bourne Grammar School should be nurtured and encouraged to be the best they can be.

The BEF has had discussions with the Charities Commission over the legal status of the BEF and the BUC through legal counsel. This goes back to when the BEF was set up in 1921 and it is their aims that we are trying to uphold. In addition the land that the school is built on has a value and the Charity Commission has suggested that this be vested over; yet if the school moves (however unlikely) they argue that the land would not revert to the BUC. This is unacceptable to us as successors to the trustees of local charities who granted the monies so that the land for the school could be purchased.

A question was asked as to if Bourne Grammar School became an Academy and merged with another Academy on a different site in the future, then would ownership of the land be once again vested in BUC? Apparently, Ms Grenfell of the Charity Commission says that would not be the case, it would go to the School (Academy) and if it failed, ownership would go to the County Council.

The result was a majority decision not to support the application by Bourne Grammar School to apply to become an Academy. There were 4 votes for the motion and 8 votes against with no abstentions