The Role of the Skinners' Company
The Skinners’ Company is responsible for five schools: Tonbridge School (an independent school), The Skinners’ School, Tunbridge Wells, and The Judd School, Tonbridge (both voluntary aided grammar schools), The Skinners’ Academy, Hackney and the Skinners’ Kent Academy, Tunbridge Wells (both new academies). The Skinners’ Company is proud of its schools and takes its responsibilities in the education sector very seriously. At each school its Foundation Governors provide a majority of the Governing Body, and all the Chairmen of Governors are members of the Skinners’ Company.
The Worshipful Company of Skinners, once controller of the London fur trade, and now one of the Great Twelve City livery companies, was incorporated in 1327, and has been based at Skinners’ Hall on Dowgate Hill (adjacent to Cannon Street Station) in the heart of the City of London ever since.
Involvement in leading and organising the apprenticeship scheme for their trade gave the Skinners’ their first taste of education. In 1553 Sir Andrew Judd, six times Master of the Company, and Lord Mayor of London in 1550-51, founded a free (that is independent of the sate) grammar school in his native Tonbridge. He entrusted it on his death to the Skinners’ Company and endowed it with some agricultural land in the parish of St Pancras, then well beyond the borders of London.
The Company dutifully undertook its task for 300 years, running its school which in due course became known as Tonbridge School. In the 1870s the Company experienced a windfall when its land in St Pancras was sold for the new railway station and grand hotel. The Company responded creatively to pressure from the Endowed Schools Commissioners (who became the Charity Commissioners) by filling a marked gap in educational provision by establishing three schools in the period 1887-90, The Skinners’ Middle School for Boys in St John’s Road, Tunbridge Wells, Sir Andrew Judd’s Commercial School in East Street, Tonbridge (which moved to its own purpose built site in Brook Street in 1895), and The Middle School for Girls in Hackney, north London. All three schools were independent, that is they were free from state interference, and were financed partly by the Company and partly by fee-paying parents.
From the 1920s they received some state aid, but it was not until the transforming Education Act of 1944 that they became full members of the national system of state education as voluntary aided grammar schools.
In 2009 The Skinners’ Kent Academy was opened on the site of the former Tunbridge Wells High School, with Skinners’ School as its lead sponsor; and in 2010 the Company’s Girls School in Stamford Hill, Hackney was closed, and at the same time the Skinners’ Academy, half a mile away at Woodberry Down, Hackney was opened in a new £27 million building.
The Judd is therefore a key member of a family of five schools, four in West Kent and the other in north London.
The Skinners’ Hall Education Office
The Company’s Education Officer, David Gibbs is Clerk to the Governors. He is assisted in this work by the Company’s Education Assistant, Judith Day-Robinson. Together they support the work of the governors, and also undertake some responsibilities for the School, for example, organising admission appeals.
The Company also organises governor training seminars, usually three per year, and also keeps a register of all governor training.
Governing a large, vibrant and highly successful school in an era of rapidly evolving government educational policy which includes public spending cuts is neither easy nor straightforward. The Skinners’ Company is hugely appreciative of the work of all of its governors who give unconditionally of their time and talents. All of them live busy lives but they bring their own experiences and skills to contribute to a strong and highly committed governing body which is an essential pre-condition for any successful school.