360 pupils to find new places as private school closes

THE AXE has fallen on Westerleigh School and St Leonards College.

The private campus on Hollington Park Road has been forced to close after running into financial difficulties.

Around 360 pupils will leave at the end of summer term, and more than 40 teachers will be jobless.

Many of the 60 students in the senior department, for 11-16-year-olds, will be approaching their GCSEs — a crucial time of their education.

Letters have been sent out alerting families of the closure — with anxious parents now frantically calling other schools in the hope of securing places.

Headteacher Patricia Wheeler, whose family have run the school since the 1930s, said: "This is a very sad time for us, but we will continue to provide the excellence of the education for which we are known and help pupils obtain places at schools of their choice."

The school refused to comment on the nature of its money troubles, but it is thought the growing popularity of Buckswood school in Guestling, and Hastings' only other private school, Claremont, played a part in its demise.

Mark Beaumont, principal of Claremont School, said: "I have been running Claremont for 11 years and have seen a steady increase in demand for good quality private education and our pupil role has increased fivefold.

"It therefore comes as a great surprise to see our neighbour close, particularly at the moment when both the economy and demand is strong.

"The local area needs more private schools, not less, to provide competition, drive standards even higher and provide sufficient places to meet local demand."

Places are available in certain year groups at Claremont for the next school year.

Nearby St Leonards C of E had already fielded requests for spaces as the news broke.

The county council is looking into the closure, but believes Hastings schools should be able to accommodate the children.

Edward Wilson, 26, of Brighton, left Westerleigh school in 1992. He said: "I am deeply saddened - it is a bitter pill to swallow.

"The school played a big part in making me the man I am today. I am sorry it will no longer be there for future generations to experience."

Founded 98 years ago and catering for two-11-year-olds, Westerleigh has seen thousands of pupils pass through its doors, including Richard Mason, the last person reported to be eaten by cannibals in South America.

Past pupils also include world motor racing champion James Hunt and many distinguished figures from World War II.

St Leonards College was founded in 1994 and ranked top in Sussex for five out of seven years for GCSE grades A to C. It also has Pitter-Patter Nursery and creche which will be moving to a new location.