'Serious mismanagement' found in school closure dispute

School trustee acted wrongly over the sale and attempted closure of Christian school, Charity Commission finds

Mark Smulian

A former trustee of an independent school has been found responsible by the Charity Commission for serious mismanagement

A former trustee of an independent Christian school has been found responsible by the Charity Commission for serious mismanagement, including the sale and later attempted closure of the school.

Grangewood Educational Association operates the Grangewood Independent School in Newham, London.

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The commission opened a statutory inquiry in April 2018 and appointed interim managers the following week, who kept the school open after parents had protested against the abrupt announcement of closure by occupying the premises.

It found the trustee, who has not been named, responsible for serious mismanagement and/or misconduct in the charity’s governance, management and administration, and in the handling of transactions, including the sale and leaseback of the school in 2015.

Parent protest against school closure

A loan of £5,000 was paid to the trustee and then used to settle their personal debts. The charity’s records also showed that the three trustees in post during 2016 and 2017 received £31,905 in expenses, but these were not recorded in the accounts.

The charity went through three periods during which it had only one trustee, which meant during these periods it was inquorate and so unable to take valid decisions.

Despite this, the trustee decided on the sale and leaseback, and later made the decision to close the school “without considering the consequences”, the commission said.

It found that families were given short notice of the closure with little time to find alternative arrangements, which led to parents occupying the building.

The sole trustee instructed solicitors to seek a possession order against the parents, but the commission refused to allow this action to proceed and appointed new trustees in August 2018. The school stayed open throughout.

The commission said: “There is now adequate due diligence, monitoring and risk management procedures in place and there appears to be no ongoing risk to the charity or its assets. The previous trustee has undertaken to not accept a trusteeship for a charity for 10 years."

Amy Spiller, head of the commission’s investigations team, said: “The Grangewood community were treated poorly, by the inadequate way this charity was managed and how decisions were taken. The sole trustee, who should not have made decisions alone, failed in his responsibilities to the charity and let the school community down.

“We took action to support the reopening of the school and protect the charity from suffering further harm, and we’re satisfied it has now made the significant changes to its governance needed, but it should not have taken this level of disruption to pupils, families and staff for this to happen.”

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