School announces closure three weeks before start of new term

Hethersett Old Hall School will not be reopening in September. Picture: Dave Guttridge

Hethersett Old Hall School will not be reopening in September. Picture: Dave Guttridge - Credit: Archant

Around 100 children are facing a battle to find a new school after theirs announced it would be closing less than a month before the start of the new academic year.

Stephen Crump, headmaster of Hethersett Old Hall School. Picture: Stephen Crump

Stephen Crump, headmaster of Hethersett Old Hall School. Picture: Stephen Crump - Credit: Stephen Crump

Hethersett Old Hall School said in a letter to parents that it would not be reopening in September after declining pupil numbers left it struggling financially and a turnaround plan failed to produce returns.

In the letter, dated August 13, headmaster Stephen Crump and chairman of governors Martin Matthews said governors had pursued all avenues to save the school.

They said they were "exceedingly sorry" to have broken the news so close to the start of the new term and that staff would help pupils to find new placements.

"Our school, like many other small independent schools, has tried to offer the best education it can in increasingly difficult financial circumstances. The reality is that we have not been able to attract and retain enough pupils to remain financially viable," they said.

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One pupil, who was due to start sixth form in September, said she was "frustrated, angry, confused, sad and cannot believe this is happening".

Her sister added: "You have people who are mid-way through A-levels and GCSEs, who have to find new schools. My sister is confused as to why they would do this and not give them more notice."

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A former parent, who moved her daughter to a different school two years ago, said the decision "should have been made months ago".

She added: "I feel devastated for the staff who have lost their jobs and the parents left with three weeks before the new academic year with no school place. I feel for the children who are about to sit exams next year and the disruption this will have on their educational learning."

One man, who wanted to remain anonymous, but who has family members who work at the school, said: "Some of the staff have been there for years. We knew that the number of pupils were declining and they couldn't get people in, but to tell staff they're going to lose their jobs through an email isn't the way this news should be broken."

According to the Independent Schools Inspectorate, pupils numbers at Hethersett Old Hall have dropped significantly in recent years, from 160 in March 2017 to just 111 in March 2019. By the end of the summer term in July, this had fallen further to around 100.

The school, which takes pupils aged three to 18, charges up to £5,210 a term for day pupils and £9,760 a term for boarders.

In the past 18 months steps have been taken to increase pupil numbers; the school announced plans last February to cut sixth form fees by a third and was due to start accepting boys into its senior school from September 2019, making it fully coeducational.

The extent of the school's money troubles is such that company which runs it will be going into liquidation, with an insolvency practitioner already appointed.

However, Mr Crump and Mr Matthews said the school should be able to pay all creditors in full.

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