The day my life changed - In my family for generations, but I knew school must close

16th July 2010 at 01:00
As last-ditch rescue plans failed, head was left isolated, stressed and close to despair

Mostyn House School has always been a presence in my life. It has been in the family for six generations and my father was headteacher. In the mid-1990s a post became vacant that was perfect for me and I was drawn back. At times there is just a sense of destiny.

The past two years have been tough. We used to see one prospective parent a week; at busy times, it would be two or three a week. But last term I think we saw five sets of parents in total.

Over the past school year we consulted staff about redundancies to cut costs. We had to lose the equivalent of 4.6 teachers, plus support staff. It was horrendous and difficult for everyone to keep working normally and maintain morale.

Then over last summer it became apparent that the pupils we thought we were going to have in September were not coming in. We had fewer than we thought and we knew some parents were going to struggle to meet fee commitments.

All this time we were reviewing our marketing strategies, pushing our dyslexia specialism and trying to do positive things. We thought we were making progress, but then we took steps back. It was exhausting for everybody.

Around Christmas, some parents gave us notice that their children would be leaving at Easter. The bursar and I, along with the board of directors, looked at different strategies. It was hard working at that level confidentially, trying to keep everything normal.

I couldn't let the school community know because that would have led to a loss of confidence and it was vital that we kept going. I felt powerless at not being able to communicate earlier. But if any whisper had got out, parents might not have paid this term's fees and you would have had children due to sit their A-levels and GCSEs with no school to do it in.

It was exhausting. So often this job is lonely anyway, but this was different to anything else and it really took its toll, physically as well. I suffer from migraines and over the years I have learnt to manage them. But by the end of last term I was suffering from frequent headaches and migraines. I found it hard to go on.

The governors held a meeting on May 24. We had 110 pupils this term and knew we would be down to 85 by September, but we weren't getting the bodies into the lower years.

It was agreed that we had to go public at this point. We had exhausted all the avenues we had explored, but the school was going to run out of money. The chair of governors called a staff meeting the following Thursday. He gave an introduction, explained the situation and read out the letter that would go to parents. It explained that the school would close at the end of the summer term.

There was a stunned silence. I think many people weren't entirely surprised, in that they knew how difficult things had been. But they had obviously hoped we were going forward. I have one real regret: that I didn't have the strength to talk to the staff at that point. I would have liked to let them know that I wanted to tell them earlier, but that I just couldn't.

I have now spoken to staff and thanked them for making the school what it is. This process is very similar to bereavement and there are many stages. But since the shock has worn off, staff have been incredible.

I came here as a pupil and it was a lovely place. You just have to look at the positives and see what Mostyn House has done for so many different people.

Suzi Grenfell was head of Mostyn House School, Wirral, which closed last Wednesday. She was speaking to Meabh Ritchie.

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