Shock as school faces closure

Joseph Bulmer

St Michael’s School goes into administration just days before the start of the new term.

TEACHERS, parents and pupils are coming to terms with the shock closure of St Michael’s School, which has gone into administration.

The school and nursery, based at Tawstock, near Barnstaple, will not reopen in January.

Parents were told of the news in an email sent by chairman of governors Mark Parkhouse, yesterday (Tuesday), just five days before the school was set to reopen.

The letter said: “It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that St Michael’s is to close with immediate affect.

“The governors have no option but to put the school into administration and neither it, nor the nursery, will re-open in January 2012.”

Mr Parkhouse said the decline in pupil numbers – together with an unexpected withdrawal of 10 pupils at the end of the autumn term – meant the school was no longer financially viable.

He said the school had investigated a number of options to secure the school’s future – including a merger with one of several charitable and commercial groups of schools – but none had proved achievable.

“All the governors join me in expressing their deep sadness at this devastating situation,” added Mr Parkhouse.

The school and nursery, set in 32 acres of parkland overlooking the Taw Valley, caters for children aged from three months to 13 years.

It employs around 50 teaching, administrative, support, maintenance, domestic, catering and visiting music teachers, as well as around 25 nursery staff.

A meeting about the closure has been arranged for parents in the school sports hall at 1pm tomorrow.

Rob and Rebecca Barrow, parents of nursery aged children Minnie and Vincent, said they were “devastated and very shocked” to read about the news in an email. They said they now faced a race against time to find new nursery places for their children.

Mrs Barrow said: “Our children both go to the nursery and the staff are incredible; they’ve worked tremendously hard to help our children settle in, and their care and warmth for the children they look after is so evident.

“Our main concern is for the wonderful staff who are facing the prospect of a new year without jobs.

“The closure of St Michael’s will have a wide-reaching negative impact on teachers, pupils, parents and jobs. It’s a very sad time for all involved.”

The school approached the Methodist Independent Schools Trust, who own Kingsley School, in Bideford, and Shebbear College, but although a solution could not be found, both schools have said they can offer places for children at their schools.

West Buckland School headmaster John Vick told the Gazette that his school had not been asked about a possible merger but said it was doing all it could to accommodate children whose parents wish them to transfer to West Buckland.

Mr Vick said: “This is a very distressing situation for everyone involved at St Michael’s; our hearts go out to the children, their parents and the members of staff who have worked so hard to keep their school alive.

“Many parents have always regarded West Buckland as the natural choice of school to follow on from St Michael’s. If it were necessary to create additional classes to accommodate extra children I am completely confident we could do this by the start of term in January.”