School faces bat­tle for sur­vival as num­bers plum­met

Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District - - Double Murder - One Year On - By Emma Grafton-wil­liams egrafton­williams@ thek­m­ @EM­MAMGW

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

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