Governors who closed independent school risked giving the impression the decision was not made properly

Charity Commission report into closure of St Bees School in Cumbria last month says trustees acted properly, but a news embargo was breached before stakeholders were informed

St Bees School. Photo: Doug Sim
St Bees School. Photo: Doug Sim

The governors of an independent school in West Cumbria "opened the charity to the risk of public perception" that the decision to shut it down had not been made properly, the Charity Commission has concluded.

A report published today of the regulator’s operational compliance case on St Bees School, which was run through a charitable company and closed at the end of last month, says that the decision to shut the school had been taken properly.

But it says that information in the school’s accounts and the manner in which the meeting at which the decision to close the school was conducted could have led some people to think that it had been made improperly, the commission found.

"The decision to close the school was properly taken, in that it was within the governors’ powers and followed the specific requirements in the governing document about making decisions and conducting meetings," the report says.

"However, given the way in which the meeting was conducted and the decision was taken, the governors opened the charity to the risk of public perception that the decision had not been made properly."

It says that the school, located in the coastal village of St Bees, near Whitehaven, had been looking at ways of increasing income since the arrival of a new head teacher in 2012. The release of a permanent endowment had given the charity’s accounts "a more positive outlook than was in fact the reality".

The commission found that governors had intended for those affected by the school's closure to hear the news directly from the school first, but the breach of an embargo on a press release meant this was not the case. This was outside of the governors’ control, the report says,

The regulator found that while the decision to close the school was "very upsetting and disappointing to all those affected", the school’s governors had acted reasonably and there was no evidence of mismanagement or misconduct by them.

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