What is a Voluntary School?
Who owns a voluntary school?
The trustees own a Voluntary school and may not be removed by the school, but the trustees have the legal power to remove the school from their site and buildings and appear not to have to give a reason. Trustees would have a duty to consider such a step if the school were being run in such a way as to contravene the trusts upon which the trustees held the site, for example if it ceased to conduct acts of Christian worship or to be prepared to teach denominational RE or in general was demonstrably flouting or disregarding its Church of England character.
The governing body runs a Voluntary school, not the trustees. The trustees may not (in Church of England situations) appoint governors. That role is usually undertaken by the local PCC, the DBE or the Deanery. They act as a kind of proxy for the trustees in this regard. An ex-officio governor (especially the local Incumbent) may also be a trustee in his corporate capacity, together with the churchwardens.
Other than the power to remove them from their site in extreme situations, the trustees do not have any general control over the governing body. However, the agreement of the trustees is required for building maintenance and development and hence was built into the documentation. Also the trustees’ agreement is needed for licences for temporary access to their site. In practice much of this is exercised by the DBE on behalf of the trustees in VA schools (and probably not exercised at all in VC ones!). The trustees are the owners of the site so academy conversion cannot go forward without their agreement.
The DBE has limited powers over the governing body, especially over VA governing bodies. These are set out in the DBE Measure 1991 (as amended). These powers relate mainly to the maintenance and improvement of the school site in VA schools but there are some powers of direction in extreme situations for all categories of Church of England school, including academies.
The DBE also has limited powers to direct trustees under the Measure and trustees of all categories of Church of England school must consult the DBE about making their site available for an academy. In extreme circumstances the DBE may be within its rights (and has the theoretical power) to direct them not to do so. This would apply even where the DBF was trustee if the DBE believed (for example) that the DBF was handing its site over to an academy company that was incapable of sustaining the designated religious character of the school or where model documents had been varied so as to remove the provisions protecting character.