Two weeks to rescue St Margaret's school
PARENTS and pupils who are trying to prevent a city school from closing have less than two weeks to come up with a rescue plan.
St Margaret’s School is set to close at the end of August with governors and owners Woodard Group saying the decision had been made because it is no longer “financially viable”.
The school, which has 214 pupils and is currently ranked fourth in the GCSE result league tables in Devon, has blamed low forecasts for new pupils. A number of parents, as well as former and current pupils, have expressed concerns about the move, which came shortly after the launch of a three-year recovery plan.
It has also emerged that two new directors were appointed at St Margaret’s in mid-January, both of whom were involved in the sale of another Woodard Group site, Grenville College in Bideford, which was turned into more than 270 homes.
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William Long, the chairman of governors, and Woodard have insisted there has been “no thought about redevelopment or sale of the site” and that the new directors have “specific expertise and experience in handling complex and significant financial situations”.
An emotional meeting has been held in which parents, pupils and staff had the chance ask questions about the move.
School governors, representatives of the school’s owners and acting headteacher Lee Bergin were present at the meeting. It emerged that Woodard’s board will be meeting on February 14 to finalise matters and campaigners have until then to come up with a viable alternative to closure.
Parents took to Facebook and Twitter in the wake of the meeting an one posted: “There are pupils in floods of tears. The challenge now for the action group is to come up with a proposal to either fund another 12 months or buy the school.
“This will be tough task. But parents have no choice now but to seek alternative schools for their children, diminishing buy-in to a rescue.”
It was disclosed to the meeting that the projected shortfall in the second year of the recovery plan is currently around £180,000.
Campaigners have argued the part of the school site could be sold to cover this while they explore options for its longer-term future.
As the Echo has reported, there is also anger that the announcement came after fees, which range from £1,783 per term in reception to £3,548 in years eight to 11, had been collected for the spring term. With parents having to give a full term’s notice if their child wishes to leave, it means anyone currently enrolled at the school will also have to pay for the summer term.
William Long, chairman of governors, has previously said: “When the governing body reviewed the school’s financial situation leading up to the critical second year of the plan, it was clear that the school faced a loss in 2013-14 and meant we could no longer rely on obtaining the funding needed in the long term.
“Many have queried the lack of consultation. We were constricted by the need for confidentiality.”
A Save St Margaret’s School campaign on Facebook has, so far, gathered more than 700 supporters. As part of it, parents and former pupils are being urged to write to the Woodard Group stating that “if they see that there is enough weight of opinion against the move then they may reconsider”.
Steps are also being taken to apply for Free School status to preserve St Margaret’s – turning it into a state-funded school. The window to submit an application to open a Free School in 2014 closed in January so campaigners would need to find a way to keep the school running until 2015 if their application is successful.
Former headteacher Maureen D‘Albertanson, who was headteacher of the school for 11 years and retired in 2004, said: “ I believe other options should have been explored, including becoming a faith/free school and perhaps entering a partnership with other schools in the area.”
Year 10 pupil Anya Dooley, whose parents are also part of the campaign, said: “Woodard said ‘never say never’ at the meeting and I truly don’t feel that I shall be starting a new school anytime soon. I really do feel that our school will open in September. I know that a lot more pupils will be writing to Woodard and if we can keep the pressure on they simply cannot ignore us.”
In mid-January, Magnus Mowat and Raymond Mansell were appointed as directors of St Margaret’s. Both served as directors at Woodard’s Grenville College and are directors of property management and development firms. Grenville College was closed with its site redeveloped,
One parent, who asked to remain anonymous said: “Parents with corporate experience offered to become governors but the offers were never accepted when surely they could have helped with the financial problems at the school.
“I think we have a right to ask why, shortly before the closure was announced, two new directors were appointed when questions can be asked about their appropriateness.”