Father prevents closure of son's private school

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The Independent Online

When businessman Mike Holland learned that his son’s private school was being forced to close because of financial problems, he was horrified that the teenager’s education would be disrupted in the middle of his GCSEs.

The 15-year-old, who is dyslexic, had thrived at Newlands School in Seaford, East Sussex, which was renowned for its work with dyslexic students.

But Mr Holland had an unusual solution to the shock closure which threatened to see up to 450 students scrabbling for school places. He and his business partner, John Summers, whose two children also attended Newlands, have paid £2.5 million to rescue the school.

Yesterday Newlands reopened its doors to pupils three weeks after it was forced to shut down abruptly. The surprise reopening followed the two fathers’ offer to pay administrators Kroll to ensure that the school remained open.

Mr Holland, a businessman, expressed delight that the school would remain open and said the deal had been vital to safeguard his children’s futures. "We have done the deal and the school can now re-open,” he said. "Newlands is a fantastic school. My son is dyslexic, as are a lot of other children there, and Newlands has given my son confidence that he never had before.

"In the four years he has been there, there has been a tremendous improvement.

"I have another son who will be going to Newlands, so all I am doing is investing in my children's futures."

The rescue package means that pupils at Newlands School in Seaford, East Sussex, will be able to continue studying for this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams without disruption.

Almost one third of Newlands’ pupils are dyslexic and the school was highly regarded for its work special provision for them.

Now with its new backers, the school has bought back the school building and a boarding house from the administrators.

Up to 450 pupils were left without school places after being suddenly informed just before Easter that their 150-year-old school had gone into administration.

The shock closure came at a time when many of the students were just weeks away from their GCSE and A-level exams, and it left staff facing redundancy.

It had been hoped that Cognita, the private education company chaired by former head of Ofsted Chris Woodhead, would buy out Newlands. However the deal collapsed after the school's landlord, the Chittenden family, declined to sanction a reassignment of the lease to the company.

Later it emerged that the family, which owns Newlands and its 23 acres of grounds, had entered into an agreement on the land three years ago with construction firm Allum Estates.

Legal documents revealed that the agreement required the "extinguishment" of third-party interests in the land, a reference to the school's lease.

Oliver Price, the school’s headmaster for eight years, said that the two fathers’ rescue package had “come like a bolt from the blue”. "The school has always been based around a solid rock of affection and coherence and this goes to prove it,” he said.

"It was a nightmare when the school had to close but this really has come like a bolt from the blue. I only knew about it at the beginning of the week.

"As a sporting person, I never give up and by the sound of things it looks as though we have got a result."

About 200 parents and children attended a meeting at the school on Saturday for parents to register their children.

Some pupils have already found alternative school places and Mr Price said they are being encouraged to stay there until the end of the summer term but would be welcome to return in September.

He said: "We are having to start all over again but from little acorns, trees grow and we can now look forward to the future."

The Chittendens' solicitor was unavailable to comment.

However, the school’s predicament has prompted a call by Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker for independent schools to pay an airlines-style levy which would pay-out to provide a safety net for pupils if a school goes bust.

Several private schools close every year due to falling pupil numbers, financial problems or proprietors wanting to sell.