D-Day looms for ruling on merger plans

The Charity Commission steps in to referee independents' battle

A bitter row over the merger of two private schools, which has dragged in a former leader of the Church of England, has been referred to the Charity Commission.

The commission has agreed to look at objections put forward by parents at King Edward VII and Queen Mary School (KEQMS) in Lytham St Annes, which is due to merge with the nearby Arnold School in Blackpool next year.

Outraged parents at KEQMS have been campaigning against the plans since they were announced two months ago and have been bolstered by the support of staff, more than 80 per cent of whom said they were opposed to the move.

In a recent letter to governors, senior teachers at KEQMS said the planned merger had led to a crash in morale among staff. In their letter, the teachers accused the United Church Schools Trust (UCST), which runs Arnold School, of not inspiring confidence "to act in the best interests of all those concerned with our school". They added that they backed the anti-merger campaign group run by parents, called No to the Takeover.

The Charity Commission is expected to decide next week whether the opposition from parents is sufficient for it to block the merger between the schools, which are both members of the elite Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference.

The objections centre on whether the body set to lease the KEQMS site to UCST, the Lytham Schools Trustee Ltd, is a charity and whether the trustees of the existing KEQMS charity had acted recklessly in the years leading to the announcement of the merger.

In a statement, the commission said: "We have received numerous representations, many of which raise concerns about the (merger). The team will assess whether it should go ahead as drafted, be amended or withdrawn."

UCST had wanted the merger wrapped up by 21 October and was preparing to transfer staff to their new employer when the Charity Commission made its intervention. In a letter sent to teachers and parents at both schools, UCST chairman Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, accused opponents of the plans of making "personal attacks and (putting out) false information".

Ray Allis, chairman of No to the Takeover, said the support of KEQMS teachers had been crucial in its attempts to prevent the merger.

A spokeswoman for UCST said: "We, along with many of the other parents and staff involved, will not lose sight of the fact that, with dwindling pupil numbers locally, the merger is the only way of saving teachers' jobs ... and ensuring both sets of children continue to receive the quality of education they are used to."

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