Thornbury school closing after 72 years

A THORNBURY school for children with special educational needs is closing, after more than 70 years in the town.

The charity which runs the Sheiling School confirmed that the school, which has 29 pupils aged from six to 19 on its roll, will shut at the end of the academic year in July.

Around 70 of the school’s 80 staff, who are on a mixture of part-time and full-time contracts are facing redundancy, with the others having already found new jobs elsewhere.

The independent school and children’s home is set on the Thornbury Park estate, and has been in operation since 1952, offering a “holistic education following Waldorf-Steiner principles” to thousands of children in that time.

The school is part of Thornleigh Camphill Communities, a charity that also provides long-term supported accommodation in the community to around 50 adults with additional needs.

The school charges local authorities up to £90,000 a year for placements, with some day pupils and some boarders among its pupils, who are now faced with finding alternative provision.

‘Falling pupil numbers and sharply rising costs’ blamed

Thornleigh Camphill Communities chair of trustees Dr Anthony Nowlan said: “Since emerging from the pandemic, the school has had significant financial difficulties.

“Falling pupil numbers and sharply rising costs have resulted in deficits and the running down of the charity’s reserves.

“We consulted with staff and considered all options for the future of the school.

“As a charity, we also have to consider the needs of our whole community.

“If action wasn’t taken, we ran the risk of destabilising the adult provision. This is why we have reached this hugely difficult decision.”

The school first contacted parents and staff in April to start consultations on the closure plan.

It announced it had confirmed the decision on May 20.  

Dr Nowlan said: “We appreciate the impact of this news. Our focus is now on supporting every member of our community to secure their next steps in their education or employment.

“We are liaising with the local authorities who place our children to offer our help in their transition to new schools.

“In addition, I take heart from the fact that a number of our staff have already secured new employment.

“We will continue to do all that we are practicable able to do to make this process as smooth as we possibly can for everyone.

“Our charity has been supporting people with a learning disability for over 70 years.

“Sadly, we are no longer able to provide services for children, but the work supporting our thriving adult communities is continuing.”

Many pupils had ‘multiple failed placements elsewhere’

Last year an inspection team from Ofsted visited Sheiling School and said it ‘required improvement’.

The inspectors said the school understood the needs of individual pupils well and placed a high importance on a curriculum that includes “an individualised therapeutic approach”. 

They praised its “calm and nurturing environment” and said many pupils had “arrived from multiple failed placements elsewhere”.

However they said the curriculum in most subjects “is not well enough designed to build on what pupils know and can do,” adding: “Pupils do not yet benefit from a high-quality education.”

Last month parents contacted as part of the consultation told the BBC they were concerned about the effects the closure would have on their children.