Back to school for St Michael’s pupils

School will reopen after parents step in with rescue bid

A NORTH Devon independent school threatened with administration will re-open next week.

It will be lessons as normal for pupils on Monday after parents, teachers and supporters rallied to earn an eleventh-hour reprieve for St Michael’s School at Tawstock, near Barnstaple.

Dozens attended a make-or-break meeting in the school sports hall on Thursday after receiving emails the day after Boxing Day telling them that the 71-year-old school would not reopen in January.

The letter, sent by chairman of governors Mark Parkhouse, blamed a decline in pupil numbers for the sudden closure of the school and nursery, which caters for children aged from three months to 13 years.

But a rescue plan presented by a trio of parents has ensured at least two more terms for the troubled school.

The proposal by Gordon Gurr, Andy Gubb and Steve Roberts has been widely welcomed and a management team is now being assembled to secure a long-term future for the �9,000-a-year school.

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Mr Gurr, who has a 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter at the school, told the Gazette: “Following purposeful and positive meetings with the parents, staff and administrators we are now fully intent on reopening the school on Monday, January 9.

“We are a long way down the track in terms of preparing the documents we have to submit for regulatory purposes.”

Mr Gurr said the school had received an “astonishing” level of support since news of the closure was revealed on the Gazette website on Wednesday.

“We have had huge support from the community at large, including hundreds of emails of support from all over the world, as well as from those with no direct connection with the school,” he said.

“A fund of donations has come in and owing to an amazing gesture of goodwill, the majority of staff – including teachers, admin staff cooks and cleaners – have agreed to give their time freely to get the school back up and running.

“We are in contact with a charitable trust that provides bursary-type funding and financially we are quite secure for the two-term period and will be developing a fund-raising programme going forward.”

Mr Gurr said that under the original rescue plan, it was proposed that the school reopen for an initial period of two weeks but this had since been extended to the end of the academic year due to the level of interest shown.

“Because of the number of children registered to come back and the confidence building up we will be able to run the school for two terms.

“Parents have voted with their feet; the nursery has had a near 100 per resumption of children and although we have lost some older pupils to other schools, we are in a position to be able to sensibly restore a number of classes.

“During the next two terms we want to be able to demonstrate that the school is back and living and delivering the high standard of education it always has done.

“It’s back to school as normal and there will be no compromise in standards or timetable.”

Mr Gurr said the newly formed a committee would be making the necessary plans required to establish a viable model beyond the current academic year.

“We will be looking at the future of the school to ensure that it is a unique and important fixture in the community for many generations to come,” he said.

“St Michael’s has played a large part in community life for more than 70 years and has coped with difficult times in the past with the spirit and determination that has been a hallmark of the school’s ethos.

“Despite the challenging financial times we find ourselves in, the closure has still come as a huge shock to everyone connected with the school, past and present.

“We have all known that the school was facing difficulties with the number of pupils leaving but no one had an inkling that it would come to a head the way it did.”

Mr Gurr added that the last week had been a traumatic time for pupils in particular and that those returning could expect a “very special” first week back at school.

He said that those who had moved on to other schools would be welcomed back at a special event to say their farewells to friends and teachers.

A website has been set up in order to provide up to date information to the parents.

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