Charity Commission to meet governors of independent school over planned closure

The regulator says the school, St Bees in Cumbria, did not follow its guidance on winding up a charity, having not informed it of these plans

St Bees School (Photograph: Doug Sim)
St Bees School (Photograph: Doug Sim)

The Charity Commission plans to meet the governors of an independent school in Cumbria because the regulator says it was unaware of the school’s plans to close.

St Bees, which has charitable status, announced on 13 March that it would close at the end of this year’s summer term because declining pupil numbers had made the school’s financial position unsustainable.

But the commission said the school had not followed the regulator’s guidance on winding up a charity because it had not informed it of its closure plans. The commission became aware of the plans only when parents complained to it, saying that the announcement had been too sudden.

A spokeswoman for the commission said it had contacted the school’s governors for information about the situation and the decisions they had taken, and to make them aware of the importance of reporting serious incidents to the regulator.

She said the governors had responded and that the two parties were currently planning a meeting, although she could not confirm when it would take place or what format it would take.

"If they’re going to shut the school, we need to be told," the spokeswoman said. "We weren’t, and we therefore contacted them to ask about it. It very clearly says in our guidance that if you’re thinking of winding up a charity, you need to tell us."

Nobody from the school was available for comment on Wednesday morning.

A spokesman for the school previously told the television channel ITV Border: "The commission issues specific guidance about reporting serious incidents and the charity would always observe such guidance; however, none of the categories covered by that guidance have arisen.

"Nevertheless, the charity has been advised that, after a decision to close St Bees School, a notification should be made, and that was done after the meeting of 16 April 2015, when the governors confirmed the decision to proceed to an orderly closure."

A petition calling for the school’s governors to resign for not attempting to rescue the school has so far attracted more than 1,000 signatures.

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