Parents' action group fighting to save Reigate school from closure

A parents' action group formed to stop the closure of Reigate's Dunottar School for Girls, says it is “gaining ground” in its fight.

The Dunottar Parents Action Group says it is “ developing proposals to secure a sustainable future” for the school in High Trees Road and “has already identified a range of strong and viable options.”

The group and its Save Dunottar campaign was launched after what the group called “the shock announcement” by the board of gov ernors that they wanted to start consultations about the future of the school. Opened in 1926, moving to its current site in 1933 and becoming a charitable trust in 1961, the independent girls school has seen its roll of students fall steadily in recent years.

The continual fall since 2008 led to Dunottar making an approach to join the Reigate Grammar Group of Schools in 2012.

The move bought the school time and avoided an abrupt closure, but despite support and changes at Dunottar, including to its governance and marketing, the move has failed to stop the decline in pupil numbers.

The governors began a consultation process on the future of Dunottar earlier this month.

That process is expected to end on March 13.

A statement from the school stressed: “The governors have confirmed that whatever course of action is necessary, they will support those girls who have already embarked on their GCSE and A Level courses, to ensure that they are able to complete their examinations at Dunottar School in July 2015.”

However, a statement from the Dunottar Parents Action Group questioned the financial case to close the school, and said: “We are also looking at the real pupil numbers over the last five years. There were 228 in July 2010 and 203 in July 2013. “A 10% fluctuation considering the economic backdrop is really strong, “Over-all, our investigations this week give us real belief that the picture is much, much brighter than it was originally painted."

The statement highlighted the passionate feeling amongst parents, saying: “Within 24 hours of an emergency meeting called by the governors last Thursday, more than 120 parents committed their support to investigate solutions, and a Twitter account attracted more than 500 followers. “Since then more volunteers have stepped forward and the social media is alight with calls to #SaveDunottarSchool.”

It continued: “Teams of financial, legal, marketing and strategy professionals have been set up to attack the issue with almost military precision. They aim to propose initial options and solutions in a matter of a few weeks.”

Quoting one of the group's lawyers, the statement concluded: "We all believe that we owe the school so much for the support and challenge that they offer our girls every day.

"Those that don't know the school may not see what we do - an environment where each child is built up, based on their specific strengths - and this is why they excel in academic, sports and music areas, competing with larger schools on all fronts."

Patrick Pearson, who has a 16-year-old daughter studying in the Lower Sixth Form at Dunottar, said: “This consultation process being announced damages the school's reputation and there is the possibility that more applications to the school will be lost.”

He said: “We don't believe enough work has been done yet to explore other options.

“There has been a drop in pupil numbers but what we want to do is cooperate with the chair of governors to make sure we can explore other types of school models and come up with a viable plan.”

He added that although pupil numbers have dwindled, “they have had 49 applications for the next academic year. That's the best number for a number of years.

“There's every reason to believe the school could survive and flourish.”

Praising Dunottar for both its academic and pastoral emphasis, he said: “It's a difficult time but there's a lot of passion behind the school and a lot of intent to keep the school open.”

Dominique Sherry, who has a 14-year-old daughter starting her GCSEs at Dunottar, also praised the school, saying: “I think they are absolutely first class there.

“They get the best out of the girls, but in a very unpressured environment. I think it's fantastic.”

She also attacked the consultation, but said: “We are still really positive and want to work with the board to make this work. We've got to keep our fingers crossed.

“The girls have formed their own action group too. They are all writing letters, running a Facebook site, saying how they feel about the school, and they are really trying to get behind it too.”

A statement issued by the school stressed that the governors were pleased that the parents' group had been formed and added that they would be working with the group to look at all positive possibilities for the future.

“After careful consideration, and with deep regret,” it stated, “the governors of Dunottar School have begun a consultation process with staff and parents regarding the possible closure of the school.

“Throughout this process and beyond, the governors’ priority will be to ensure the least disruption possible to the girls’ education.

“The decision to begin a consultation process has been made on the basis of a long-running decline in the number of students attending Dunottar School. “Since 2008, student numbers have fallen continuously, which led to an approach to join the Reigate Grammar Group of Schools in 2012.”

It continued: “This joining enabled the school to consider all viable options for the future and to avoid an earlier abrupt closure.” But it added: “Despite strong support and changes to the school’s governance, marketing and curriculum plans, pupil numbers at Dunottar have continued to decline over the last year.

“The immediate priority over the coming weeks and months will be to minimise any disruption to Dunottar pupils’ education.”

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