North East Wales

Howell's School at Denbigh offers parents closure advice

Howell's girls school in Denbigh
Image caption The school has been running for more than 150 years

A private girls' school which has announced its sudden closure has promised parents it will help find other schools for its pupils.

Howell's School in Denbigh told parents it was closing after more that 150 years amid financial uncertainty.

It follows a tribunal which ruled an ex-head teacher was unfairly dismissed with compensation still to be settled.

Parents have been invited to attend the school on Monday where staff will advise on alternative schools.

In an email sent to parents on Friday, school trustee Nicola Locke said: "Sadly and with great regret, we have made a decision to close Howells School Denbigh for full time students with effect from September 2013.

"We will continue to use the property for educational purposes but will not be operating the junior or senior school in its present form.

It added: "We apologise for the short notice but we consider it is not appropriate to continue as if there was no risk, and cause disruption mid-year to your daughter's education."

The trustees highlighted the outstanding claim against the school after it was found to have unfairly dismissed former head teacher Bernie Routledge and his partner Helen Price.

A tribunal in March ruled that the couple had been sacked without reason.

It had been claimed that Mr Routledge behaved inappropriately in conduct with pupils over the social network Facebook.

But the tribunal dismissed all the allegations against him.

Helen Price, former head of pastoral care at the school, believes she was suspended solely because of her association with Mr Routledge.

As yet, no compensation has been agreed.

But in the trustees' letter to parents, Mrs Locke said the school had to accept that the award could be "large".

"It could be £50,000 or £500,000 but we have no way of knowing," she said.

"If that award is unaffordable then our charity could face closure at short notice. We have expected a decision on the tribunal award 'any day' since May but none has been forthcoming.

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Media captionMegan Harris, 12, says she has hardly stopped crying since she heard the news

"Given that uncertainty we have decided that we should not commence the next academic year in September, rather than open as normal and risk a closure part way through the school year."

The letter to parents said that the school will be open from Monday to "work with you in every way possible to find a new school that is suitable for your daughter" and that re-enrolment deposits already paid would be refunded.

It is not known how many pupils are affected but there were 161 senior and 60 junior pupils at the school in 2008, according to its Estyn report.

'Short notice'

Steven Griffiths, vice-chairman of the parent teacher association, told BBC Wales he was "surprised" and "upset" at the decision.

He said it only left the family four weeks to get their 10-year-old daughter into another school.

Image caption Former head Bernie Routledge and his partner Helen Price won an unfair dismissal case in March

"We're frustrated at the fact that it has been such short notice and we're also sympathetic towards all the other parents - they could be on holiday or they might have more than one daughter in that school and they've got to try and get them into further education somewhere else.

"We're just a bit disappointed in the way its been done," said Mr Griffiths, from Rhyl.

An independent auditor's report on the school finances, lodged with Companies House for the period to the end of August 2012, outlined some concerns.

"The company made a loss during the year of £162,733 and the liabilities continue to exceed assets," the report said.

"There is also the potential outstanding liability with regards to the employment tribunal.

Image caption Parent Steven Griffiths said he was 'surprised' and 'upset'

"These factors indicate the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast doubt on the company's ability to continue as a going concern and therefore it may be unable to realise its assets and discharge its liabilities in the normal course of business."

The accounts for the school, which employs 58 staff, showed it had debts of £481,135 at the end of August 2012.

However, auditors stated in their report that bank borrowings and overdrafts amounting to some £237,000 were paid off in February this year.

Howell's School is registered as a charitable company, with Mrs Locke and husband Robbie named as the directors.

Originally called Howell's 2000 Ltd, the school's company name was officially changed to H2000 Ltd in January this year.

The school and its trustees have been unavailable for comment.

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