School faces battle for survival as numbers plummet
The cash-strapped Canterbury Steiner School could close or become the district’s first free school as it battles plummeting pupil numbers.
Bosses at the fee- paying school in Garlinge Green, near Chartham, admit all options are being explored as they fight an ongoing financial struggle.
In a desperate letter to parents, trustee Judith Hawarden says it is spending more than its income and will run out of money by January 2018.
She wrote: “In order for a school to exist at all, beyond this academic year, we must know by the end of term from parents whether your child will be here in September. Once this is known, as far as is reasonable, the trustees can assess whether there will be enough money to run the school through the whole school year, 2017-18.”
Steiner schools teach their own curriculum, putting equal focus on the emotional and intellectual development of their students.
But pupil numbers in Canterbury have tumbled from 130 to 90 since 2013, increasing the finan- cial pressure on the £2,856-a-term school.
It has left bosses considering its future, with one of the options on the table becoming the first free school in Canterbury.
Such a move would spell the end of fees and allow it access to government funding, while still being free from state control and able to set its own curriculum.
Acting school leader Tessa Carias says the school will look towards submitting an application once it can see pupil numbers are increasing.
“We’re committed to keeping this education,” she said. “It’s important for us to keep what is our core ethos.
“It’s a very holistic education but it’s also quite a rigorous education. The trustees will be looking at lots of different ways to achieve what we need to do to grow the school, to keep the school – and the free school is one of those options.”
In 2012 the school won planning permission to relocate to land at the former St Augustine’s Hospital in nearby Chartham, but it later sold the 30-acre site to aviation mogul Barnaby Swire for £1.26 million.
Mrs Carias says it was forced to sell up because of “a number of obstacles” preventing the development, but money from the sale only gave the school “a year’s grace”.
Last year the school closed entry into its upper school – for pupils aged 14 to 17 – because it was not financially viable to continue teaching such small classes. The remaining upper school pupils will leave in the summer after their GCSES.
Former pupil George Coupe, who has four children at the school, is determined to see the school thrive once more.
He said: “In other countries the Steiner system is state-funded and we’re not, so that’s why we’ve got a harder battle on our hands. I’m just sorry that it isn’t available as it needs to be – that’s really what the next year and few years is about.
“For 40 years this school has been a force for good on this site and it has the potential to do that for another 40 years.”
The Steiner School in Garlinge Green, near Chartham, coluld be forced to close
Acting school leader Tessa Carias