Death knell tolls for historic city school

Sunderland High School.
Sunderland High School.
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Campaigners hoping to save Sunderland High School have admitted defeat.

Parents, students and staff were left stunned in January following the shock announcement the school was going to close after more than 130 years in the city.

Dawn Pringle, who started the campaign to save Sunderland High School.

Dawn Pringle, who started the campaign to save Sunderland High School.

A hardy group of volunteers united in a bid to take over the running of the school, but despite overwhelming support, they did not have time to secure its future.

Dawn Pringle, who launched the bid to save Sunderland High School, said there were a lot of tears at the end of the Easter term when a large number of the children left to take up their places at other various schools.

Others will stay on until the end of the academic year when the school will close for good.

She said: "It is heartbreaking. The children and the staff are just devastated by it.

"If we had been given prior warning last year what was planned, I'm sure we would have been able to save it, but as it was, understandably, parents were too worried to wait to see what would happen and wanted to secure other school places for their children.

"It is very sad for the children and staff at the school, but also very sad for the city."

United Church Schools Trust, which owns Sunderland High School, where the fees range from £2,300 to £3,200 a term, blamed the decision to close on falling pupil numbers, from 580 to less than 290 in 10 years.

The steering group, set up in a bid to save the school, came up with a business model which involved operating with both primary and secondary pupils from two of the existing buildings in Mowbray Road, St Cuthbert’s and the Centenary Building.

They said to make it financially viable they would need 170 pupils to sign up to the new school, but in the end only 100 parents were willing to take the risk.

Ms Pringle said: "We were asking parents, who are paying out thousands of pounds for their child's education, to take a huge risk on us being able to secure the school and run it in such as short time.

"It would be a gamble for anybody and it was a lot to ask of people. There was a lot of uncertainly and understandably parents were scared to take the risk."

She said a lot of the GCSE and A level children will be transferring to Dame Allan's school in Newcastle, which has agreed to carry on with the exam boards they have already started, and the younger children will be heading to a variety of schools in the region.

Ms Pringle said despite being unsuccessful she is pleased she, and the other campaigners, tried to save the school.

She said: "Put in the same position again, we would do the same thing. The school deserved to be saved and Sunderland deserved to have that school.

"Basically, this organisation was too large for us to take on at the end of the day, but at least we tried."