Michael House School – dangerous in 2007 and financially failing for years

Michael House School, a Steiner education school and Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) member, was in the very recent past heading for financial ruin and is still in bad financial shape. The school raised funds back in 2003/2004 by selling off land but has failed to make a profit in any year since then.

The school’s Annual Report & Accounts for year 2007 show the school to have run up a 100,000 GBP loss on an income of some 375,000 GBP, the reasons being:

“(the) School continued to funds its activities via the capital that had been raised in previous years rather than through balancing its income from pupils and its operating costs. Records pertaining to the fee discounting system used during the period of these accounts were not adequate for the current Trustees to be able to satisfy themselves that the system was applied equitably and fairly. The level of discounts given to fee payers, the reasons for granting discounts and the manner in which these decisions were arrived at were not fully recorded in the Trustees minutes at the time.”

In September 2008 the Charity Commission provided the trustees in post with an ‘Order’

“to empower them to manage the School, re-establish the Association and its membership, call an AGM to present these accounts and to elect new Trustees”

all of which they did before the end of the year. A Charity Commission Order is usually applied for by the trustees in exceptional circumstances when, for example, they need to make some sort of change or decision but are prevented or hampered from doing so by their constitution or way of operating.

In Michael House’s case the changes made appear to have been root and branch and by the end of 2008, when all of the changes mentioned above had been made, only one of the original trustees in post when requesting the Order remained, the others had all been replaced.

It was the new trustees that signed the 2007 Report & Accounts and it was they that offered the reasons as to why Michael House School had reached such a perilous financial situation. It possibly hadn’t helped school finances that until the new trustees came in the accounts were recorded by hand in old fashioned ledgers. Also, in accounting year ending 2006 the former trustees were noting that increased fees were being absorbed by increases in salaries for the staff – not a good way to balance the books. It appears the old guard finally gave up hope when the school’s Development Steering Group which had been meeting to explore the idea of a multimillion pound development at the school ceased its meetings in April 2007 without having firmed up any recommendations.

Still losing money, the tone of the school’s Report & Accounts for year ending 2008 is one of optimism. The trustees reported a 10% reduction in expenditure, an increase in fees, improved financial controls and much reduced losses. Perhaps encouraged by the use of a computer, the school even saw one of its “rare amplified music events” (as the trustees put it) when a local band lent a hand in school fund raising efforts.

Michael House School (not to be confused with Michael Hall School, the one that was ripped off by its own bursar) is in Shipley (Derbyshire) and was founded in the 1930’s. It has about 150 children on its roll and an average annual income of over 400,000 GBP. When last inspected by Ofsted it was a dangerous place for children.

The most recent Ofsted Inspection of Michael House School took place in February 2007. All of the following quotes below are taken directly from the report of the Inspection.

At the time of the 2007 Inspection the schools policy for child protection was out of date and, worryingly, the report notes:

“Most administrators, teachers and assistants have been checked with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). The most recently appointed members of staff are currently having checks. Staffing and recruitment procedures do not comply with latest regulations, however, as they do not show securely that individuals’ identities, certificates and professional qualifications are checked and recorded.”

Elsewhere in the report inspectors noted:

“The climbing frame in the muddy adventure playground presents a dangerous hazard to pupils as it has no soft surface materials beneath the equipment.”

Fire Officer recommendations had

“not yet been completed with the urgency required”,

there still being a fire hazard, for one example, in a school warehouse.

Inspectors shared the concerns of parents regarding management of the school:

“a significant proportion of parents feel that the school is not well managed: for example, they express frustration that decisions take a long time to be made and even longer time to be implemented. The inspectors agree with this view.”

So, the kids were at the time of the inspection at risk of injury when playing on a climbing frame and there was a fire risk in at least one area of the school. On top of that there was the potential for harm from staff;  ‘most’ staff had been checked with the CRB but most means not all of them had been checked. Recently appointed staff had not been checked with CRB before being appointed and even when staff were checked Michael House School had no sure way of knowing that the people they appointed were who they say they were or that their qualifications were genuine. Incredibly the Ofsted inspection gave the the school a ‘satisfactory’ rating.