Imagine relocating around 200 miles to send your child to a dream school – and then discovering 10 months later that it is to close.
That is the situation facing one family after Kingsmead School announced it is to shut next month, ending 116 years of education in Hoylake.
The shock move came after a rescue bid by a group of parents, staff, alumni and supporters, who had raised half a million pounds in pledges to take over the running of the private school from September, failed due to a drop in pupil numbers and Covid-19.
The decision has left around 130 pupils – many with special educational needs – in limbo and parents facing a race against time to find an alternative, with some considering home schooling their children from September.
Tanya and Simon Burley, who were living in London until last summer, made the decision to move to Hoylake, where Tanya grew up, after being concerned about what was on offer in the capital for their son, who has Asperger’s.
Tanya told West Kirby Today: “He was approaching secondary school age and we could not find a suitable school for him to go to.
“All of the schools we looked at – both comprehensive and private – were enormous and utterly overwhelming for him. The classroom sizes were large and because he doesn’t have an EHCP [Education, Health and Care Plan], we were told we would receive minimum support.
“I knew of Kingsmead School and was recommended we view it because of their great SEN support and pastoral care. So we did. And we loved it. They genuinely seemed to understand children like our son and actually cared.
“We’ve always battled to get help for him and were prepared for another one. But they just got it. For the first time, we actually felt heard. I left the school and promptly burst into tears, with happiness and relief.
“Our son did the taster day and by the beginning of last September we had sold up and uprooted our lives from London to move back to the Wirral.”
Tanya said their son has “flourished” since being at Kingsmead: “He is happier, calmer and has made some fantastic like-minded friends. He no longer feels ‘weird’. Academically he has gone from being a C/D student to an A/B but without any of the pressure that accompanies independent schools.”
She said they feel “bereft” that the school is closing: “I appreciate that not everyone supports private education, but this establishment is unique. There is a mixture of parents – from professionals to nurses, teachers, plumbers and construction workers. Some are even holding down two jobs just so they can send their children to this wonderful school.”
The school’s support for children with additional needs has been praised by all of the parents that have been in touch with West Kirby Today. One mum who sends her son there told us: “Kingsmead saved not only his life but gave him his childhood back.”
Another parent, Elaine Hope, who has two children at the school, said: “My eldest is looking at having to repeat Year 12 and delay going to university for a year – not because he has failed but because the closing of Kingsmead has failed him.
“Seven years ago we didn’t think we would ever be able to think about him looking forward to university and a career but because of the school that’s what his future looked like – bright and hopeful. Now, who knows?”
The school said in a letter to parents that it would nearly have run out of cash by the end of the summer term, but some question whether more could have been done to save the school.
West Kirby Today has been told that parents set up three different groups and worked at the school for up to four nights a week to try and come up with a plan to save it, and six proposals were put forward which they believed were viable.
Tanya Burley said: “There were investors who were turned away and some fantastic business models drawn up by accountants, bankers and solicitors. But they still chose to close. It’s shocking and appalling and shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”
In response, the Governors said: “After several years of losses and a great deal of hard work trying different business models, there is no choice. All avenues were explored and this has been an incredibly difficult decision to make for all parties.”
They would not reveal how many of the seven trustees voted in favour of the closure, citing confidentiality and adding it was “irrelevant, given that the vote was properly conducted”.
Local residents who opposed the successful sale of a disused playing field at the school to a developer for 25 luxury houses last year will also be unhappy.
One of the main reasons given for the sell-off was that it would secure the future of Kingsmead by funding a new block to expand sixth form provision.
The housing scheme is already being marketed, with prices from £450,000 – £660,000 per property, but the promised sixth form block will now never be built. What will happen to the 20 acre site is unclear, with the school saying its future is “not yet decided”.
Kingsmead School said: “The Governors are fully aware of the great personal difficulties that closure will cause to all parents, pupils and staff and together with Headmaster Mark Gibbons and his team they will provide families with the support needed in the weeks running up until Autumn term.
“Since 1904, Kingsmead has been marked out for its remarkably caring, family ethos and pupil-centred approach with a dedicated and highly-skilled teaching staff.
“Over the years the school has produced an exceptional academic record, with GCSE and 11+ pass rates of over 80% and has transformed the lives of so many children and their families and enabled pupils to thrive and achieve their full potential.”
Headmaster Mark Gibbons said: “We are all so saddened to announce that Kingsmead will close at the end of this term, but we want to thank the staff, parents and children for their remarkable efforts in recent months.
“Over the years we have seen so many children flourish and find their place in this unique and nurturing learning environment, and we want to celebrate that. We now hope that the Kingsmead spirit and ethos will live on in some capacity, and the legacy will continue.”
David Renison, Chair of Governors, added: “Kingsmead is not alone amongst small private schools across the country in having to close.
“Sadly the COVID 19 pandemic has finally ended our chances of recovering the necessary number of extra pupils who were needed to make the business viable.”
A petition calling for Kingsmead School to be saved has already amassed more than 5,000 signatures, and can be found here.
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