Could a solution be found to save Walden School from closure?
PUBLISHED: 17:30 17 May 2017
Parents at a Saffron Walden private school, which is set to shut its doors to students at the end of the summer term, organised a meeting with governors on Tuesday night looking for ways to save it from closure.
Walden School, previously known as Friends’ School, last week informed staff, parents and pupils of its proposal to close on Friday, July 7, this year.
The independent day and boarding school, which currently has 280 pupils and employs 140 staff, blamed the economic downturn and a highly competitive local market for a “continued decline in student numbers”.
Parents organised the meeting to discuss various options which may exist to potentially save the school from closure, with the hope of putting forward a proposal next week, and school governors attended in a listening capacity.
Susan Garratt, chairman of governors, said: “The governors and school’s senior management team, together with our business advisors, will certainly review any proposals that may be put forward by parents.
“However, the primary issue is the need to increase pupil numbers in the immediate term which is what the school has worked very hard at doing over recent years.”
Mrs Garrett added the school will continue to look for ways to prevent the closure during its consultation period with staff, but if no viable solution is found, the school will close.
Walden School was set up as Quaker School 315 years ago, and has occupied its current site on Mount Pleasant Road since 1879.
Last year, the independent school re-branded – changing its name from Friends’ School to its current title – but the move did not attract the prospective pupil numbers hoped for.
The school has approached the Department for Education (DfE) regarding the future of the school buildings, and already calls have been made to keep the site as an educational base.
Mike Hibbs, architect, town councillor, and Liberal Democrat candidate for the town’s seat at the general election, said: “Like many people, I was saddened and shocked by the announcement that Walden School is to close.
“We need a new two-form entry primary school in Saffron Walden, which could be provided on this site with very little adaptation.
“We also need a new secondary school to meet the increased demand from new housing development, this too could be accommodated on the site.”
Caroline Derbyshire, headteacher at Saffron Walden County High School and chief executive of Saffron Academy Trust, said: “We are extremely saddened at County High to learn that Walden School will be closing at the end of the summer term and feel greatly for those affected.
“Unfortunately, this comes at a time when there is a huge pressure on school places in Saffron Walden state schools – both primary and secondary – and it will undoubtedly increase this pressure further.
“We understand that Walden School has approached the DfE to try to ensure the site is retained for the provision of education.
“Saffron Academy Trust is supportive of the idea that the site should be developed to meet the need for school places locally.”
A spokesman for Essex County Council said: “We are aware that Walden School has taken the decision to close and will work with them to secure state school places for all Essex pupils who need them.”