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School in Herne Bay set to close over lack of pupils

St Philip Howard Catholic Primary School, Herne Bay
St Philip Howard Catholic Primary School, Herne Bay

St Philip Howard Catholic Primary School is set to close in the summer

by Chris Price

A primary school set to close in July would “need a miracle” to remain open, its chair of governors has said.

Parents of pupils at St Philip Howard Catholic Primary School were sent letters this week warning of the impending closure, which has been blamed on a lack of funding and low pupil numbers.

Just 90 children attend the school, with only five more expected to join up in September.

Chair of governors Mark Nash from St Philip Howard Catholic Primary School, Herne Bay
Chair of governors Mark Nash from St Philip Howard Catholic Primary School, Herne Bay

Chair of governors Mark Nash, right, who has three children at the school, said: “It is gutting, especially given the fact the school has turned a corner in the last six months.

“A lot of people seem happy here but the simple fact is not enough local parents have chosen to send their children here and in today’s world, low numbers means a lack of finance.

“It is a very small school and as a consequence it has a very close-knit feel. A lot of parents send their children here on that basis. It has a community family feel.

“It is going to be a massive loss to Herne Bay and Catholic education, as well as the parents and children.”

The school has a history of financial difficulties because of its size and is in need of repair works.

Funding for this was due to be provided by a Private Finance Initiative but the school needed to be filled to capacity to pay it back.

Letters were sent home on Tuesday explaining a consultation process will be launched on March 11 about the school’s future.

It will gather the views of MP Sir Roger Gale, local authorities and the diocese and will allow parents and children to have their say.

Mr Nash added: “It is not a fait accompli but we have investigated and the school is not sustainable with current pupil numbers. We need a miracle.”

"it appears there is no hope. regrettably that is the way it is." – parish priest father mark white

A meeting for all parents and carers will be held at the school on Wednesday, March 13, at 7pm.

Staff have been told they have employment until August 31.

The loss of Catholic education will be a blow for the community, according to parish priest Father Mark White.

Father White is also a school governor and has preached at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on Sea Street for four years.

He said: “It is dreadfully sad. The school is a very important part of our parish life and there is great sadness at this loss for the children, parents and staff.

“It will be the loss of the whole ethos of our school. The faith and life that we try to lead and encourage is going to be missing.

“Obviously the other schools in the area have great qualities but this one has a special link to the church and losing that is very sad.

“It appears there is no hope. Regrettably that is the way it is.”

Heidi Griggs with her nine-year-old daughter Anya.
Heidi Griggs with her nine-year-old daughter Anya.

St Philip Howard is the smallest school in Herne Bay, which is one of the main reasons parents say they have chosen to send their children there.

Some were angry that news of the closure was leaked before letters were sent out, giving a few parents a headstart in finding a new school.

Heidi Griggs, 33, right, has already found a place at Reculver Primary School for her nine-year-old daughter Anya.

She said: “I am really heartbroken. I have done fundraising for the school for 19 years. We are like one big family and it is really sad.

“My daughter starts at Reculver on Monday. I cannot wait until July. She is going into Year 6 next year, which is really important for her.”

Donna Scott, 37, of Bognor Drive, has a nine-year-old son at the school, Ciaran, and his elder sibling also went there.

She said: “I am devastated. We have been here before in 2004 and 2005 but it was a shock because I thought we were getting somewhere.”

Lenard Beard’s eight-year-old daughter Bethany has learning difficulties and benefits from the small class sizes.

Mr Beard, 65, of Station Road, said: “The teachers here are excellent. They get time to sit and really help her learn.

“In this area there is only Herne Bay Infants. I do not drive and I do not want my daughter to go to school far away. It is really hard.”

Pauline Mawema, 32, of Beltinge Road, said: “My son Kern has got ADHD and they give him every bit of help he needs. He is very upset.

“I am not very happy that certain parents were told before others. Where is my child going to go? I don’t want him travelling two and a half miles. There is a meeting about this in March but that is not going to help my child get a school place.”

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