Statement from Woodard Group
In response to a number of questions asked by the Echo, Woodard released the following statement:
St Margaret’s has been returning deficits for six years and numbers have been falling. An independent marketing report concluded that there are too many private education places in Exeter, especially for girls only education. Woodard recognised the problem four years ago and facilitated re-financing for three years in order to prevent the bank foreclosing and precipitating a catastrophic closure; approaches were made to other schools to explore merger opportunities but these proved to be unviable.
Numbers had fallen and the prospect looked as though the only hope of recovery was through cutting costs by closing the sixth form. As a result of the parental outcry at the time of this announcement in Spring 2012, the then-chair of Governors stood down and William Long volunteered to take the role in order to effect a plan for recovery. Woodard provided additional finance in the form of a loan to make this possible, but required a second year break-even in order to make investment in the school sustainable.
This has not been successful.
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After the recommendation to close had been made to Woodard new governors were appointed, who are also Trustees of Woodard, with specific expertise and experience in handling complex and significant financial situations. All Governors and Trustees are unpaid and work tirelessly to achieve the challenging charitable objects of Woodard.
During the course of last year a number of parents volunteered to assist the school in working on marketing initiatives and took a positive role in helping to raise the school’s profile in the market. In the event this proved insufficient to attract the number of pupils required, but we would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their dedication, hard work and support for the school.
St Margaret’s School also received applications from a few parents wishing to become Governors. We were pleased that the parents wanted to support the school in this way; however, we felt it was essential that any potential Governors were aware of the legal, financial and pastoral duties and obligations involved. Training in these specific areas was originally scheduled to take place in December 2012; however, because one of our trainers was unable to attend, this was rescheduled for February 2013.
Unfortunately, the entrance figures for September 2013 meant that the difficult decision was taken to close the school before these parents had the opportunity to undertake training.
A parent group has been formed with the express intention of seeing the school’s continued running. Woodard is in dialogue and hopes to set up an exploratory meeting this week. The corporation is also examining approaches made by other educational organisations. In the course of this process Woodard will commission a valuation of St Margaret’s assets in order to determine the proper value if ownership is transferred. In the meantime consultations with staff over redundancy will continue.
As previously stated, the school will continue to run as usual for the remainder of the 2012-13 academic year, in order to minimise disruption to pupils’ education.
In terms of the 2013-14 school year, an agreement has been made with Woodard schools King’s College Taunton and King’s Hall School in Taunton for taking on any St Margaret’s pupils who wish to transfer. Parents have been given information about transfers including scholarships and bursaries.
Active discussions continue with independent and state schools in the Exeter area about availability of places.