Struthers Memorial Church and the bursary policy





This website has been looking for information and answers about the practices, policies and teachings of SMC and seeking to have those placed in the public domain.


From the start of this website we have made it clear we would welcome and acknowledge progress.


Last week some progress appeared. In a major update to the Struthers church school website the Struthers charity have now made available to the public for the first time the Financial Assistance Policy – the bursary policy for the church school.


For 3 years on this website we have been asking for this policy to be made public. Previously the only public statement available was one mention in the Struthers Church report and accounts making the following bizarre and unhelpful statement:


"the church.......provides assisted funding by way of sponsorship to enable children from households with inadequate personal funding to attend Cedars School of Excellence. The charity is not able to respond to applications for grant funding either by individuals or groups." R&A Page3   (repeated every year)


The statement allowed for no doubt whatsoever that no applications for school fees funding would be considered – and therefore all awards would be made by the Struthers charity directors and the head teacher based on secret criteria to benefit only those they were already personally aware of and deemed worthy of receiving it.


We pointed out that this was potentially open to abuse – such as the charity directors or head teacher secretly giving grants for school places to their own friends, family and favourites. That seemed to us deficient in terms of transparency and any demonstrable public benefit whatsoever.


Happily now, 3 years on, it appears that OSCR seem to have taken a similar view and have obliged the charity directors and the head teacher to make their bursary policy public.


This is a good thing and long overdue. It is utterly disgraceful that it has taken this long. Only a credulous fool could not conclude that this has only finally been done under the threat of loosing charitable status. It will be alarming for those connected with - and financially contributing to - this charity that its leadership went into the OSCR school inspections in early 2013 without sorting out this secret bursary policy issue. Even a cursory read of the OSCR requirements would have made it clear that operating a secret policy would fail the test of public benefit.


Possibly some within the charity warned them of this. We certainly did. 3 years ago we highlighted this problem. How respectfully they have responded from the public platform to the issues raised in these articles only those still attending Struthers church know. Yet if they had swallowed their pride and listened this could have been sorted out long ago.



He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life. Ezekiel 33.5


We also suspect it may just be the small beginning of the work OSCR will now be requiring the Struthers charity directors to do. We hope the OSCR enquiries will take Struthers from a secretive and unaccountable club mainly benefiting a tiny group in it’s leadership – as we believe it has been - to it becoming one day an open and transparent organisation which can at last define, publish, explain and defend it’s beliefs and policies. If these policies are clear, valid, and beneficial to its members and to the public it will be able to gain support on the basis of openly sharing and not hiding the truth about itself and its outlandish beliefs.


So, as we say, only a small beginning but we do regard this as progress.






Changes to the Struthers school website


We note 4 important changes when the Cedars School website was updated on 26 August 2013:



1       the bursary policy appeared for the first time


2       the list of school staff disappeared for the first time


3       the school fees have increased considerably


4       there is a new tab/page on the website attempting to illustrate that there is public benefit, additional to the bursary system, which the school provides to the public.



Looking at these in turn:


1       We have been asking for 3 years why this was a secret policy known only to the 6 directors and the school board (which includes some of the directors). For that 3 year period we would still call for it to be made public how many of the leaders friends, family, employees in the school, and those who have shared households with them have benefited from what was, at that time, a secretly administered fund.



2       We note the list of Cedars School staff has disappeared. Hopefully that listing will reappear. And hopefully in the accounts the names and all salaries for all staff in the school, churches and cake shops will be published. We see no appropriate reason why the identities of those who work for this charity should be kept secret from the public. And we see no reason why all salaries should not be made known to:


the members whose donations fund them (particularly in the situation where church school salaries have for several years now been subsidised from the weekly collection plates of the 11 Struthers branch churches)


the public who consent to the tax and benefits Struthers Memorial Church gain as long as they meet all the required legal criteria


We look forward to also seeing a publicly available Recruitment Policy document which we have also been asking for for 3 years. This should finally explain how fairness, transparency and avoidance of the appearance of nepotism has been ensured in all past and future salaried appointments within the Struthers charitable company. We look forward to reading that. It has not been published yet.



3        Some considerable time ago in our article on the Generous Gift  we indicated a large subsidy to the school would have to be paid from collection plate income every year on an ongoing basis unless :


1      the school raised the fees charged to the parents of the 100 children directly benefiting.


2      the school reduced their staffing and activities to a level they could afford based on the fees income they were getting.


In subsequent years given the recent 27% decline in church income and the unresolved debt issues the need to address this has become greater. We are glad to see that this has now been acted upon. We hope this means the school will become a cost centre within the charity that covers its own expenditure. We hope that this would then allow the Struthers charity to address its serious ongoing unresolved debt issue as reported in its most recent published accounts. In any case the possibility of a large subsidy from the collection plates is rapidly disappearing as people leave (or are banned from attending) and resultantly income declines.



4       They sometimes are willing to rent rooms to the public apparently. A link to the “public benefit” webpage is here. The Struthers Memorial charity workforce salaries amount to half a million pounds annually. In addition they claim that there are professional skills within a few of their people in some of their congregations. If this paltry list of meagre alleged benefits is the best that the highly salaried workforce can come up with - then things are not looking like they will soon improve for SMC. Many other education provision charities provided evidence of additional public benefits years ago and even some of them, like the Struthers school, have not yet passed the test to prove their existence as a charity provides real benefits to the public.


A first look at the new policy


As we will do with any of the policies which painfully slowly and belatedly emerge from this publicly accountable charitable company, we can now examine and test this policy to see if it looks fair and reasonable and positively benefits the public. Or see if it creeps reluctantly into the open yet still seeks to preserve and protect the power and control over money and people's lives which, given the Struthers and school leaders public statements, they seem to regard as their God given right.


If they do regard themselves as special and chosen by God to do and say and spend as they like (and only they have the right to know who benefits) then perhaps they should not have signed up to the OSCR requirements which oblige openness and public accountability. Yet however much that debate might be interesting let there be no doubt as to the current situation:



• Struthers Memorial Church have signed up to the requirements and benefits available through OSCR and the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, requiring openness, transparency and provable public benefit.


• We will hold them to that and assert our right to publicly discuss them and ask questions of them as much as we wish to in relation to any matter pertaining to the Struthers charitable company.


As members of the public that is our right and, in this country, our freedom. In addition as Christians it is our calling and duty to question and highlight any and all abuses of biblical authority; and if an attempt is being made to selectively use some bible verses to preserve the power of self proclaimed religious leaders. A clear sign of problems would be an unwillingness to be open and transparent about the way charity monies are spent. Another clear sign of problems would be if they subject people to inappropriate control and claim God gave them extra-biblical authority to do that.


The similarity between leaders who do that claiming special divine calling and advanced personal righteousness; and people who seek and hold on to leadership because they are self seeking, self serving and morally corrupt is too much of a similarity to ignore. In each case the heart and motivation of the leadership is claimed to be pure and “the one desire” is for the good of the people. Yet to the abused and weary follower the experience and the outcome is the same.


Exploited, harmed and run-down people with a damaged view of God.


Bursary Policy document


We would like to comment on some of the content of the newly public school bursary policy.


Page 3

They are awarded at the discretion of the Governors, and the Head and School Bursar are responsible for the management and coordination of the process.


Initially it would be nice if in this new document, or anywhere on the school website, the name of the School Bursar and how to contact them was included. There is a list of the school board but no one on that list is yet indicated to be the Bursar. Perhaps that could be included in a future revision. Having a public policy but a secret Bursar seems perverse.


Page 3 under Eligibility

The School operates a sliding scale for Bursary awards which it reserves the right to vary in special cases.


We would like more information on page 3 about the scale and how it operates rather than an indication the charity directors may vary it if they feel like it "in special cases". We think getting fair and balanced structure in the bursary awards so that everyone wanting to send their child there should have their applications treated in the same way - regardless of:

  • their relation to the directors or head teacher,
  • their membership or not of Struthers Memorial Church,
  • their status as church goers or non church goers  

The claim so early in the new policy that the charity directors may make special exceptions seems odd and could make the policy open to accusations that they could distribute awards unfairly and claim special circumstances. What “Special circumstances” might be is conveniently left undefined. We think the system should be based on fair access to any member of the public and not have that compromised by "special" exceptions and “special” cases.


Page 4 under The Application Process

The Bursar will take the following actions:

• Assess all applications in order to establish the likely level of support which will be required in order to allow the child to attend the School. This may involve the Bursar, or their representative, visiting the parents’ or guardians' home to ensure the information has been correctly interpreted and the basis of the financial assessment has been fair.


If people are prepared to submit all the requested personal, financial and family information to the school we think there should be an assurance included in the policy document clearly stating that all information given to the charity will be dealt with confidentially and within the strict guidelines of the data protection act. We have concerns about past failures of confidentiality within this charity and the bad habit of the leadership to think they are free to discuss among their close friends and the charity directors peoples personal information that should be kept confidential. We believe confidentiality should be honoured between a church attendee and any one person in leadership if they ever choose to share personal information with them. And there needs to be a concomitant commitment not to let any information gained in a bursary application leak into the public domain, or inform any other purpose within the charity – such as, for example, being used to advance action being taken against an applicant who might be being persecuted by the Struthers leadership under the Banning Policy. The Struthers Church leadership have used the Banning Policy for many years to exclude many, many people from attending their church services which they yet claim are open to the public. Not to all it seems.


Unlike the new Bursary Policy – the Banning Policy has not yet been made available to the public  


Unlike the Bursary Policy – the Responsibilities of Struthers Church Leaders document - including the requirements of confidentiality and the consequences for any Struthers leader of breaking it - have not yet been made available to the public  


Unlike the Bursary Policy - the “Requirements of Membership” document outlining the beliefs and teachings of Struthers Memorial Church that people can read, ask questions about and consent to before they will be expected to come under its conditions - has not yet been made available to the public.


Page 5  under Other Factors

It is recognised that, in addition to academic ability and financial constraints, there may be

other circumstances, which should be considered. These include:


• Where a child has siblings at the School.

• Where the social needs of the child are relevant (e.g. may be suffering from bullying at

their present school).

• Where a parent or guardian is terminally ill or is unable to secure permanent employment

due to poor health.

• Where a separation has resulted in the child having to be withdrawn from the School

adding to the stress of coping with the parents or guardians separating.

• Where a child has a parent who is a member of staff at the School.


There is a list of what they have defined as “Other Factors” which they will use to decide on applications for school fees funding - many of which will generate public sympathy and be seen as good and proper -


For example:


• Where a child has siblings at the School.



That seems reasonable



• Where the social needs of the child are relevant (e.g. may be suffering from bullying at

their present school).



Who could argue with that?



• Where a parent or guardian is terminally ill or is unable to secure permanent employment

due to poor health.



That is an excellent and worthy reason to help a child from that family



• Where a separation has resulted in the child having to be withdrawn from the School

adding to the stress of coping with the parents or guardians separating.



Agreed – who could not see that as a good thing?



• Where a child has a parent who is a member of staff at the School.



Eh ?


Now if we were talking about, for example, a 20% discount on school fees available to any member of staff that might be a reasonable perk for someone seeking a job at Cedars School (assuming the Struthers charity could afford to fund it and assuming their financial contributors agreed this was a priority for the charity).  But in fact under "Other Factors" it seems to be saying a favoured and fortunate teacher at the school on top of their salary could get 100% of their children’s fees paid - and another could get nothing. That seems like a benefit designed to look after some of those within, and already employed by, the organisation and we would like more information on how that constitutes public benefit? And can the Struthers directors explain how that is as worthy as helping the children of families with low earnings, terminal illness, disability or broken homes? And can the Struthers directors also explain why that is a higher priority than - say - spending money on local evangelism within its churches; or training its leaders to better serve those in their congregations (and perhaps by doing so making it more likely they might remain in Struthers and not leave). Why giving more money to the salaried staff of the charity should be a financial priority is not obvious and we think there should be more explanation as to why this criteria has been included.


This is also a particular concern since the most recent staffing list - before it was removed from the school website - showed that every member of staff in the school appeared to be an attendee of Struthers Memorial Church. Therefore that final “Other Factor” seems to seek to limit rather than widen benefit.


In addition - if we were a primary teacher earning £ 34,000 and a member of a Struthers congregation but taught in a local authority school; we might be wondering why the person beside us teaching in Cedars School and earning  £ 34,000 with a child the same age as ours might get their child's fees paid - but the non Cedars teacher with the same circumstances would not qualify. That does not seem justifiable. Is this seeking to continue a practice under the old secret policy where the staff gained access to benefits not available to others? That is certainly one possibility and a conclusion reasonable people could draw. But it is not our job to guess - it is those responsible for the charity who have a legal obligation to explain.


Perhaps then the Bursar or the head teacher could explain the policy behind this particular “other factor” a little more?


Page 5 under Confidentiality

The School respects the confidentiality of bursary awards made to families, and recipients are expected to do likewise.



This concerns us. We are looking to see a policy which moves from total secrecy and the potential for nepotism and abuse to one that is open and accountable. For that reason we are concerned about this part of the policy.


We are happy that the school, or any part of Struthers charity, has at last made a statement that they respect confidentiality and we strongly support that. However we think that those in receipt of a bursary should be free to make that known if they wish. We think that will help openness and honestly within the awarding process. And we can see no reason for people being obliged to keep information secret other than the convenience of the charity directors and how they want to keep information about their decisions on behalf of the charity restricted to a small unaccountable elite. We believe the legislation makes it very clear that all the Struthers directors decisions are legally required to be taken (and shown to be taken) in the best interests of the charity and not in any case for personal gain of the directors or those closely connected to them.


In addition we think it is also important from year one of this new policy that the public can see that Struthers charitable company are delivering the public benefit they have committed to provide evidence of. This secrecy clause will make that functionally impossible.


A Proposed Solution


We can see 2 possible solutions:


1   Let people share in any public forum they wish how much bursary their child received. If everything had been done fairly and in line with the published policy, and all similar cases had been handed fairly and without undue preference to anyone connected to the directors, head teacher or staff, there could be no argument that decisions had been anything other than scrupulously fair.




2    If there is a good, well argued reason for a charity to hide information about public benefit from the public - then we suggest that the school report in detail to OSCR annually how the bursaries have been awarded and what percentage of bursary has gone against each criteria.


for example such a report to OSCR may look like this:


using the "Other Factors" bullet points above and adding a percentage for how much of the overall bursary has been award to each deserving group" :







• Where a child has siblings at the School.



• Where the social needs of the child are relevant (e.g. may be suffering from bullying at their present school).         



• Where a parent or guardian is terminally ill or is unable to secure permanent employment due to poor health.          



• Where a separation has resulted in the child having to be withdrawn from the School adding to the stress of coping with the parents or guardians separating.   



• Where a child has a parent who is a member of staff at the School.   







This report could then be made public and demonstrate the breadth and fairness of how this newly public bursary policy was being applied.