25 February 2021, The Tablet

Ampleforth pupils plead with PM to save school

Ampleforth pupils plead with PM to save school

Cicely and Serena, two pupils at Ampleforth, with their letter to Boris Johnson outside Downing Street.

Ampleforth pupils have issued a heartfelt plea to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to save the school from closure.
In a letter they intended to deliver to Downing Street, but posted instead due to Covid-19 restrictions, the pupils state:
“Dear Prime Minister, as pupils at Ampleforth College, we feel we have a lack of voice regarding the future of our school. Having been issued a restriction order by the Education Secretary in November 2020, the school faces a ban on accepting new pupils.”
They request “clarification” from the Department for Education on when the restriction order might be lifted.
“Whilst all school pupils are suffering uncertainty regarding exams and the effect Covid will have on their education, we at Ampleforth are also left feeling very uncertain about the future of our school.” 
They continue: “It is a school in which we are not only educated by dedicated teaching staff but also feel cared for, valued and respected. We want it to be known that we feel safe and confident in our school. As students who have both learnt and grown and Ampleforth, all we can speak of is our own life-shaping experience; nevertheless, we wish to be heard.”
The letter is signed by the head girl, year 13 pupil, Ida Bridgeman who says in her signature it is supported by more than 300 other Ampleforth pupils. 
Last November, the education secretary banned Ampleforth from taking any new pupils because of a failure to meet “standards relating to safeguarding and leadership and management”. In an enforcement notice to the St Laurence Education Trust, the education department cited an emergency Ofsted inspection of Ampleforth, founded in 1802, which charges fees of £36,000 a year.
They pupils have also written to conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake, be cause the school is in his constituency, as well as mental health minister Nadine Dorries and Harrow MP Robert Halfon, in his capacity as chair of the education select committee.
The school is dependent on fees for survival.
One parent said: “The children are now incredibly upset and stressed. The aim behind the ban it seems, was to safeguard the education and the well being of the children, for the moment their education is fine but their well being is definitely not.”
She continued: “I am really not sure what else we can do but if the decision is not reversed or even just not dealt with, these children will lose a school they love, which as I said before has listened and responded. The constant refrain from the children is why does no one care and listen to what we want after everything the school has done.”
An Ampleforth spokeswoman told The Tablet: “We are waiting to hear from the Secretary of State about the ban and expect an update very shortly. We have been working with the Department for Education and Ofsted to address their concerns about safeguarding processes and brought in external expertise to audit our practices and help us put in place best in class procedures.

In considering the ban, the Department for Education could choose to see our determination to improve, the swift progress, the excellent practices in place, the success of the school.” She said 98 per cent of current parents would recommend Ampleforth to others, according to responses to a recent Ofsted parent survey.

She continued: “The Department for Education could also consider the assessment of the external experts who audited our safeguarding, the Safeguarding Alliance.”

The alliance wrote to the Secretary of State for Education stating: “Ampleforth has a child-centred approach to education, excellent pastoral care, and the staff clearly care deeply for the students and their welfare…… we can confirm that Ampleforth places the child at the centre of their safeguarding approach.”

The spokeswoman said: “The Department for Education could consider the mental impact on our students, already coping with Covid restrictions and changes to exams, and now threatened with the closure of their school because of this ban.

“If the purpose of the ban was to drive improvement, this has been achieved. Continuing it, starving the school of fee income from the 165 new starters expected in September, would undo this success by closing down the school. We are confident the Secretary of State will consider the wellbeing of those pupils and staff whose futures are at risk and lift the ban before it is too late.”

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