Highfield Priory School is constituted as a charity and is subject to the Charities Acts, and regulated by the Charity Commission. A new Charities Act came into force in 2006, and under that Act, the Charity Commission issued guidance requiring schools constituted as charities to demonstrate public benefit explicitly, whereas previously it was presumed.
Highfield was one of the first wave of schools to be inspected under the Act and the Commission guidance, with particular attention to the new public benefit requirement. The Commission found that Highfield satisfied most of the public benefit requirements of the Act and the Commission guidance , but that a plan needed to be put in place to ensure that people in poverty and unable to afford the fees were given sufficient opportunity to benefit from the charity's activities. The Commission also found that the school's long-standing policy that all or nearly all governors are parents could give rise to potential or perceived conflicts of interest between the parents collectively and the charity. The Commission agreed to work with the governors to develop an appropriate framework for the authorisation and management of conflicts of interest.
Over the last twelve months the governors, working closely with the Commission, have compiled a plan to address the issues raised, We are pleased to note that today the Commission has concluded that the findings of the public benefit assessment published in July 2009 have been addressed and that the trustees are carrying out their duty to administer the charity for the public benefit.
The plan has two principal components; the introduction of a means-tested bursary scheme, and changes to the governance arrangements.
The details and rules of the workings of the bursary scheme will be compiled over the next few months. The key points in the plan are as follows;
The governors will revise the corporate governance structure of the school to maintain the highest standards of integrity and ensure that there are adequate safeguards to avoid potential conflicts of interest. The composition of the board of governors will be changed so that it consists of six parent governors and four non-parent governors. The non-parent governors will have the majority say over certain matters where potential conflicts of interest exist, such as the setting of fee levels and provision of opportunities to benefit.
The governors believe the changes that will be implemented will contribute further to the growing success of the school while also increasing the level of public benefit delivered by the charity. Creating access to the school to a wider group of pupils will enable them to benefit from all that Highfield has to offer, and they in turn will benefit the school.