Covid 19 - Coventry School Foundation Fee Dispute.

Julia McNaney (Chair of Governors)

Mr A M Wright (Headmaster)

Mr N Price (Headmaster)

Mrs T Horton (Head of Pre-Prep)

Jacqui Hammond (CFO)

 

Bablake School

Coundon Road

Coventry

CV1 4AU

 

URGENT  

1st April 2020    

 

Dear Sirs,

 

Re: Covid – 19 - Fees payable by parents of children at Bablake Preparatory, Junior and Secondary School

This letter has been sent on behalf of numerous parents whose children attend Bablake Preparatory, Junior and Secondary School; hereinafter referred to as ‘Bablake’. Many of these parents have more than one child at Bablake.  

You will therefore appreciate, that although some parents may have written to you independently and are at liberty to take individual action, they may not be party to this action. However, the writer confirms that the number of parents joining this action is increasing, and some of these parents are also key workers.   

Covid-19  

We appreciate that this is a difficult time for all concerned and thank you for the efforts that are being made by Bablake to maintain some consistency and routine for the children. All the parents understand that these are unprecedented times and people are facing many different challenges trying to transition to a new way of life for the foreseeable future.   We wish to pay particular tribute and thank the teachers and some of the staff that are attending school to look after the children of key workers.  

Letter dated 24 March from Bablake  

The arguments raised within this letter follow your letter dated 24 March in which you particularly state that:  

“…the management and operation of our schools must continue as normally as it possibly can to ensure that we have this ongoing ability to adapt and maintain the continued provision of education to all pupils. This includes continuing our routine invoicing arrangements.  Accordingly, the invoice for the summer term’s fees will be sent during the week commencing 6th April 2020.”  

“Fees of course continue to be payable during any period of physical closure of the school site, when we will transition to remote and online learning. We are currently developing our remote learning capabilities and we fully intend to ensure the continued provision of education to all of our pupils notwithstanding the closure (partial or otherwise) of our sites”  

The school doors were closed for the majority of children following Friday 20 March as they did for the whole of the nation.   

Following Closure  

You admit in your letter dated 24th March that at the point of closing doors no remote learning capabilities were available to the children, and such were in development. Unlike state schools, Bablake has fallen woefully short what was expected of an independent establishment, and in what has been offered in comparison to other independent and state schools.

Therefore, upon the doors closing, the Preparatory School could not offer the education and extra-curricular activities that the children are used to receiving on a regular basis and nor were any arrangements put in place to receive the same by remote or distance learning.

Your letter dated 19 March clearly states that school trips and other activities have been “cancelled until Easter and many beyond Easter have also been cancelled”.  

With regard to the Junior School there has been no remote or distance learning capabilities in place, or evidence that these are sufficiently robust to properly substitute the full time classroom education that was being received by those children. There is little assurance for those in younger years.  

The learning ‘pack’ and proposed arrangements of having work assigned on via Microsoft Teams does not replace classroom teaching, discussion and problem solving.    

Fees Payable  

The fees that parents pay one would surmise not only pay for the salaries of the staff and teachers, but they also contribute to overheads, payment for school dinners (Preparatory School), maintenance of grounds, gas and electricity etc. They also contribute to facilities for the teacher, staff and board of governors to meet. These are all faculties and facilities the children will not have full access to or benefit of during the closure or will not be in full and proper use in any event.  

The comments under the sub-heading “Following Closure” are repeated and the children will not have access to education equivalent to classroom teaching that the parents pay for via fees.   

UKGB Government’s Response / Clause 15  

The UK Government (‘GOV’) and the World Health Organisation (‘WHO’) recognise COVID-19 as a pandemic that is highly unusual and a significant event.  

The Bablake – Terms and Conditions of Contract govern majority of the relationship between parents and the school. Your “Obligations” are detailed within clause 8 and further guidance would be obtained in respects of the curriculum from Department of Education from time to time.  

Pursuant to clause 15 (a) the definition of an “event outside of our/your control” includes a “pandemic…of any disease” and it follows that this ‘event’ is outside of the control of parents.

Bearing in mind the lack of resources made available by you, and for the reasons stated above (which are not exhaustive and further reasons may be added in later correspondence or below), children would not receive the education you are contracted to provide. It is therefore asserted that the School should not collect any or any proportion of fees from the parents of children whilst school doors are closed for the majority of children.  

If it is your position that Clause 15(b) allows you to collect fees and avoid your obligations of performance, the parents would contend that the same would be caught by the “Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977”. You will note that this is a business to consumer contract where standard terms apply. Therefore clause 15(b) would be subject to the reasonableness test and it is unlikely that the Courts will allow to you enforce that clause either partially or to the full extent.

We do not wish for this letter to become overly technical or legal and hope that common sense will prevail. To that extent we reserve the right to raise further arguments, either in respect of common law obligations and force majeure, and ask that you note the following:  

(1)    Many of Bablake Parents will be seriously affected over the coming months in terms of their health, employment, businesses and family income.  

(2)    Many will also be supporting their local communities to survive and continue to subsist in these most difficult of times.  

(3)    The provision of educational service, and use of school facilities, school lunches and dinners is not being provided. Year 1 and Year 2 have been provided with printed copies of free resources online and a suggested timetable, both of which are to be principally administered by parents only.   

(4)    There is serious concern that you have taken this decision because the Coventry Schools Foundation maintains a monopoly over private school education in the City of Coventry. The charity commission and department of education should consider whether your action to charge full fees in these difficult times adds to a serious argument that the two schools (Bablake and King Henry) should divided.  

(5)    Bearing in mind any Government and Local Authority relief packages, additional business support packages, business rates relief, business grants, government backed loans and contribution of employee wages through the Covid 19  job retention scheme, it’s difficult to see how you have justified the decision to charge full fees.  

(6)    Other private fee-paying schools where a monopoly is not maintained, such as King Edwards, Birmingham have made the decision to freeze and/or reduce fees. Some fee-paying schools have reduced fees simply to cover running costs or made the necessary actions to ensure their school community is undamaged as possible.   

(7)    You have already made a decision by your letter dated 27 March providing a reduction of fees by 50% for the Early Years (Kindergarten and Reception). This contradicts the decision in your letter of 24 March 2020, and it is not clear how you have arrived to this decision.  

(8)    The children in Early Years (Kindergarten and Reception) share the same facilities as Year 1 and Year 2 children and the provision provided is exactly the same (ie, teachers are provided to both from 10 am and 12 pm). Please advise on what basis you have come to this conclusion.   

(9)    The Bank of England has reduced interest rates to a historic low, and the Banks have deferred billions in mortgage payments when people still live in their homes, businesses have been provided options to furlough staff in order to reduce redundancies and the world is affected on a global level.      

In these circumstances we collectively do not agree that the school has acted reasonably, consistently and prudently to provide appropriate educational services or in reaching the decision to charge full fees.

We would ask that you and the management team for the School and in particularly the Chair and Board of Governors reconsider the decision and demonstrate some understanding as a matter of urgency to avoid additional stress to the parents of Bablake students.  

Particulars in relation to the many different ways in which the parents pay fees, ie, fee plan, year in advance, or termly payments shall be subject to further consideration. Whilst we understand that some parents have stopped payments under clause 15(c), others are continuing to pay and they will be expecting a refund in due course. In some cases the option to stop payment is not available. The decision whether or not to stop payments is made by the individual parents, however to save on future administration or disruption, it would be prudent for you to take a holistic decision for all parents on the questions of fees. 

For the avoidance of doubt, should the education of any child be impacted as a result of this action or any child (being that of the parents in the action) be excluded by the school, you are on notice that you may open the school and yourself to a claim for damages in tort or for breach of contract.  

Conclusion 

At this stage we shall leave it to you to respond with proposals on the question of fees. However we ask you to consider that the trust that has been built over many, many years between the Bablake parents and the School has been seriously eroded by your decision in the letter of 24 March and the overall lack of compassion and education provision that has followed.

We have the full expectation that the School will treat this letter with the importance it deserves and that a sensible resolution follows without the need for further correspondence or action.

We look forward to receiving your response by 6th April 2020.  

Yours sincerely,

 

Parents of Bablake Students

 

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Julia McNaney (Chair of Governors)  

Jacqui Hammond (CFO)          

 

URGENT   

1st April 2020       

 

Dear Sirs  

Re: Covid – 19 - Fees payable by parents of children at King Henry VIII Preparatory  and Secondary School  

This letter has been sent on behalf of numerous parents whose children attend King Henry VIII Preparatory and Secondary School (“KH VIII”). Many of these parents have more than one child at KH VIII.

We have read the letter sent by the parents of Bablake School students, dated 1st April 2020 - copy attached.  

We fully support the action of this letter because the same circumstances apply to us. 

 

Yours faithfully

Parents of King Henry VIII Students  

Enc.

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