Philip Larkin’s old school being merged with its nearest rival

Philip Larkin will be ‘turning in his grave’ over a recent decision to merge his former school with a rival institution, it was claimed last night.

The poet, who attended the 476-year-old King Henry VIII (KHVIII) School in Coventry during the 1930s and 1940s, would be ‘astounded’ to learn that it is to be merged with its even older rival, Bablake School, according to a former headmaster.

The Coventry School Foundation, responsible for running both co-educational independent schools – which have a combined history of more than 1,150 years and each charge up to £12,000 in annual fees – made the merger decision last year.

King Henry VIII school in Coventry – which was once attended by poet Philip Larkin – has been in operation for the past 476 years

KHVIII School will merge with Bablake School , although some former staff have described the proposal as a 'crazy idea'

KHVIII School will merge with Bablake School , although some former staff have described the proposal as a ‘crazy idea’

Governors claim the ‘difficult but necessary’ decision was made because of a reduced demand for independent schools in the area. But the move has been opposed by pupils, parents, ex-teachers and alumni incensed that the unique identities of each school would be lost.

Following complaints, the Charity Commission (CSF) has now opened a fact-finding inquiry into the case. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of the CSF.

George Fisher, headmaster of KHVIII from 2000 to 2010 and subsequently a lead inspector in the Independent Schools Inspectorate, condemned the merger as a ‘crazy idea’.

‘These are two schools on opposite sides of Coventry which each have literally hundreds of years of their own separate history, ethos and traditions,’ he told The Mail on Sunday. ‘They compete tooth and nail on the netball court or rugby field and benefit from a healthy rivalry.

‘But all of that will be lost in this merger. Once you lose the individuality of a school, it’s not something you can ever get back.

‘Parents of current pupils don’t want to be told, “This is your only choice, like it or lump it.” And I think the sad reality is that many will lump it because it isn’t what they signed up for.

‘This is akin to an act of educational vandalism which will permanently diminish two schools which have always been highly successful and unique in the opportunities which they provide for children. Unsurprisingly, many current pupils and their parents are angry.’

Philip Larkin, pictured at a memorial for his friend John Betjeman, went to KHVIII School  in Coventry

Philip Larkin, pictured at a memorial for his friend John Betjeman, went to KHVIII School  in Coventry

The CSF’s plan to rebrand both institutions under the one name – ‘Coventry School’ – has already prompted an immediate backlash. Governors were forced to back down and the new school will now be called Bablake and King Henry VIII School (BKHS), which Mr Fisher said sounded ‘like some failed high street retailer’.

He added: ‘We think the whole thing is being driven through relentlessly by a very small number of governors and staff at the foundation office.’

A petition set up by a pupil at Bablake School, which was founded in 1344, calling for the plans to be scrapped has attracted over 3,000 signatures. But despite the opposition, the CSF will press ahead with the merger from September.

It will see pupils aged six to 11 based at the former KHVIII campus and secondary pupils, aged 11 to 18, based at Bablake.

Paul Fernandez-Montes, chairman of the Old Coventrians – the King Henry VIII Former Pupils’ Association – said that he had received ‘countless’ messages from ex-pupils objecting.

‘I’ve been overwhelmed by the strength of feeling against the proposed merger and remain bewildered at the lack of any attempt by the governors to provide a proper justification for the proposal,’ he said.

A Charity Commission spokesman said: ‘We have opened a regulatory compliance case to assess concerns relating to this matter and cannot comment further at this time.’

Julia McNaney, chairman of governors at the CSF, said: ‘Against the backdrop of lowering demand for independent education in our region, our foundation took the difficult, but necessary, decision to do likewise.’ She added: ‘We understand that some of our alumni stakeholders have been disappointed by our decision to restructure the schools, and this may be what has led to complaints to the Charity Commission.

‘We are confident it will find that we have acted in line with our charitable aims and objectives.’