Plan to save Reigate girls school by making it co-ed

Parents and supporters of Dunottar School For Girls in Reigate have backed a proposal to save it from closure by turning it into a co-ed school.

Action group, Dunottar Voice, which is fighting the prospect of the school closing because of falling numbers, has thrown its support behind a plan put forward by educational charity United Learning.

A meeting of nearly 200 parents and supporters of the school in High Trees Road voted unanimously in support of the charity's proposal that boys be admitted to the school from September 2014 into Years 7 and 9, and also the sixth form.

United Learning, a nationwide group of independent fee-paying schools and state-funded academies, founded in 1884 and including Guildford High School and Surbiton High School, has said projections suggest that sustainable pupil numbers would be reached in just a few years. The charity has committed to finance the “inevitable loss in the immediate future” and to re-invest in the school's long term development. It has also given a commitment that as numbers are rebuilt, any child entering Dunottar in September 2014 would be able to progress all the way to A-levels in the school.

The action group is now promoting the plan to the school's board of governors.

A spokeswoman for the group said: "This is such great news and justifies the faith we have had in the school.

"And the timing is perfect as choices on secondary schools need to be made after half-term, this means Dunottar can be a valid choice again.”

She said: “Obviously the board needs to look at this alongside any other proposals that they've had.

“I can't imagine they have a better one but, one way or the other, at least we now know that closure is not necessary."

The action group meeting heard the summary findings of a market research exercise that asked both existing and prospective parents their views regarding the school and its possible reinvention as a co-ed school. The group said that while seven per cent said they would not send their daughters to a co-ed school, some 82% said that it made the school a more attractive choice. The group stated: “The key message from the research was that parents are very attracted by the school's focus on each child's potential and its academically non-selective admissions policy, and that they believe that boys as well as girls should benefit from it.”

United Learning's chief executive officer, Jon Coles, issued a statement with the parents, saying: “We would like to thank Dunottar Voice for approaching United Learning and working with us to examine whether we think we could take the school on successfully. “We have now looked at this in sufficient detail to be confident that we can do so successfully. “ Mr Coles' statement continued: “We fully recognise that for a single school, covering short-term cash shortfalls is highly problematic. “But as a major educational charity, we do not have the same difficulty in doing this where we can see that there is a strong market for the school in the long-term. “We are clear that there is a strong market for a co-educational Dunottar in the future and would therefore be prepared to cover short-term losses in order to create that outstandingly successful school for the future.” The statement concluded: “If this proposal has the support of parents, we will put forward a plan for taking the school into United Learning and running it as an excellent school for the long-term. “We recognise that parents want certainty as soon as possible, and so we would look to reach agreement about this with the current governors in a matter of days.

“It would give us great pride and satisfaction to be part of the school’s future. “ The news buoyed the school's supporters to further fundraising.

A gala evening last Saturday (February 8), featuring a cabaret and an auction of promises, raised more than £40,000 on the night, taking the action group's total towards funding specialist legal and educational advice to more than £71,000 in just two weeks. Dunottar Voice was set up in response to the announcement by the Board of Governors of Dunottar School that it was opening a consultation on the closure of the school in January. A statement from the Board of Governors of Dunottar School this week said: “The consultation period has brought forward some potentially positive proposals and possible alternatives to closure of the school, which are welcomed by the Board of Governors.”

The statement continued: “The Governors take seriously their duty to ensure the best course of action for the school and the charity and, as a consequence, expect that all those who are proposing plans to continue education at Dunottar should provide robust and viable plans to secure the educational and financial future of the school.

“The governors wish to end the uncertainty for everyone involved as soon as possible, but will need to examine carefully the plans put forward, before deciding which alternative best meets the objectives of the school and the charity.

“They will aim to come to a conclusion as quickly as possible but will not sacrifice a robust and enduring solution for a quick decision.”

The statement concluded: “The governors have already held meetings with some of those bringing forward new business models and will continue to address questions posed by those groups over the next few days. “The governors will convene to make a decision when the final proposals have been received from each party.”

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