North East Wales

Howell's School at Denbigh announces its closure

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Media captionParent Steven Griffiths say the news has come as a shock

A private girls' school in north Wales says it is shutting down because of uncertainty about its finances.

Howell's School in Denbigh has been in operation for over 150 years.

But in an email sent to parents on Friday, trustees said uncertainty about compensation arising from the dismissal of a former head teacher posed a risk of closure part way through the year.

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

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

"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.

The email signed by 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."

Compensation due

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.

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

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 and Ms Price, who was head of PE and pastoral care.

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.

"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.

'Material uncertainty'

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.

Image caption Steven Griffiths was concerned at the short notice

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

"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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