A bowls club is suing a £10,000-a-year girls’ prep school after it refused to renew the lease on its clubhouse as elderly members can see pupils getting changed through classroom windows.
Carshalton Beeches Bowling Club is taking action against Seaton House School in Sutton, Surrey at Central London County Court after the school refused to renew the lease on their school-owned clubhouse HQ.
The school claims it cannot renew the lease as ‘safeguarding’ concerns were raised over the presence of bowlers on school property – and is afraid the Department of Education could close it down if these are found to continue.
It followed a report in November 2019 by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) – the private school equivalent of Ofsted – which said the £10,000-a-year school was failing in its ‘safeguarding’ duty towards its pupils because of the presence of the bowlers.
And came after parents at the top independent all-girls prep school complained about players being able to look from their bowling green into classrooms where girls aged between two and 11 get changed for PE classes.
Parents at Seaton House School (pictured bottom) complained about bowls players being able to look from their bowling green (centre) into classrooms where girls aged between 2-11 get changed for PE classes
Head teacher Ruth Darvill (pictured outside court) told Central London County Court that the future of the school is under threat. The school fears the Department for Education could close the school if safeguarding issues are found to continue
Lawyers for the school say the problem lies with members of the bowling club and visiting teams being able to see into classroom windows which face the bowling green.
They are also complaining about the bowling club running a licensed bar on school premises and particularly about daytime drinking during funeral wakes which are held at the clubhouse to give a good ‘send off’ to members who pass away.
The school wants the bowling club out and are refusing to renew the lease on the club’s HQ, which they plan to demolish and rebuild as a school outbuilding.
That’s despite the bowling club having existed on leased land within the school grounds for almost a century, having been established in 1929 – a year before the school itself was founded.
Head teacher Ruth Darvill told Central London County Court that the future of the school is under threat, adding: ‘The continued presence of bowlers on our site would be devastating for our reputation.’
‘If we continue to be in breach of regulations, the Department of Education will take a view about whether we continue operating as a school,’ she told judge David Saunders.
But the club is now suing the school – which was voted Prep School of the Year by the Sunday Times in 2018-19 – seeking to force them to renew their lease.
Club chairman Robert Rumsby told Judge Saunders there was ‘no evidence to support what [the school] are saying,’ adding that it would be a ‘tragedy’ if the club were to be shut.
‘We have been there for 90 years and many of our members have been with us for a lot of that time,’ he said from the witness box.
‘It’s the centre of their sporting and social life and it would be a tragedy if we closed it. We want to keep it for the benefit of the local community.’
The school (pictured) wants the bowling club out and are refusing to renew the lease on the club’s HQ, which they plan to demolish and rebuild as a school outbuilding
Lawyers for the club also emphasised that there have been no specific allegations by anyone at the school of voyeurism against any individual bowler.
Mrs Darvill, giving evidence, told the court that parents are concerned about the bowlers being on site and said that since the ISI report last year: ‘There is now documentary evidence that we fail due to non-compliance and security risk.
‘The continued presence of bowlers on our site would be devastating for our reputation,’ she told the judge.
But she confirmed under questioning from barrister Robert Bowker for the club that, while there some parents had complained, there has been ‘no specific allegation of sexual impropriety directed towards a member of the club or a visitor’ since she took over in September 2019.
Debbie Morrison, the previous headteacher at the school, also confirmed to Mr Bowker ‘that there has been no allegation of sexual impropriety against any specific individual’ during her time in charge of the school.
Mr Rumsby, in the witness box, urged the judge not to heed the worries of the school staff and parents.
‘There is only one classroom which faces the green. You can hardly see through the windows because its dark. It’s up to the teachers to make sure the children are sheltered,’ he said.
The school’s barrister Charles Irvine told him: ‘You make criticisms of what parents complain about…[that] bowlers can see pupils changing.
‘You say the teachers can deal with that….are you aware that the school has no changing rooms?
‘It’s not obstructed glass and there are two classrooms facing the green which can be seen.’