Sunderland High School SOS: TV agony aunt on board as parents plan buy-out of historic institution

Sunderland High School, Tonstall House
Sunderland High School, Tonstall House
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Plans are underway for a possible buy-out of an historic Wearside school which has been earmarked for closure.

Staff, parents and pupils at Sunderland High School were left stunned when news broke on Monday that the school, which has been an iconic part of the city for more than 130 years, is set for closure.

Denise Robertson

Denise Robertson

The United Church Schools Trust (UCST), the charity which runs the school, said due to falling pupil numbers it will close at the end of the academic year.

Pupil numbers at the high-performing independent school – which has a junior site in Ashbrooke Road and senior buildings in Mowbray Road – have fallen from 580 to fewer than 290 in the last ten years and UCST said the school is also set to make a six-figure loss this year despite significantly subsidising its finances over the last five years.

However, parents and supporters of the school, which employs 75 staff, have rallied together with the hope of taking it over and are urging anyone with the experience to help to go along to a meeting tomorrow.

The campaigners have the support of well-known agony aunt and television personality Denise Robertson, herself a former pupil.

Don’t give up on the school just yet.

Dawn Pringle

She said: “I’m astounded and sad to hear about the closure, but hopeful that the school can carry on in some other guise.

“If there are enough people ready to take responsibility this might be possible.”

Now, parents are currently working on a business plan with a view to saving their beloved school for their children and future generations.

Dawn Pringle, whose daughter, Halle, 13, is a pupil at the school, said although it remains very early days for the campaign, the level of support already received from the community and former parents and students has been overwhelming.

Dawn, who lives in Cleadon, said: “I have spoken to the trust and they have agreed in principle that if we can put together a watertight business plan there would be scope to take over some of the buildings.

“It seems to be the feeling of the teachers that they want to do whatever they can for the sake of the pupils.”

The businesswoman, who runs the South Shields-based North East Bed Centre, said the aim of the campaign is to bring together people who have the knowledge and experience needed to take on the challenge of running the school.

Dawn has spoken to a solicitor and the Department of Education and said one way to save the school would be for it to be set up and run as a limited company.

The group are now in the process of getting permission to look at the existing financial records of the school.

Dawn said: “We want to get across to parents to not make any quick decisions. By all means look around for a second option, but don’t give up on the school just yet.”

Anyone who is interested in getting behind the campaign to save the school should go along to the meeting at the Junior School site in Ashbrooke Road at 2pm tomorrow.