Top school in exam league is closed

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THERE was no celebration at Lady Verney High School last week when official examination league tables revealed its GCSE results to be among the best in the country. The girls' grammar at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, closed in July.

Lady Verney High was among just 11 state schools in the country where 100 per cent of pupils gained five or more grades A-C at GCSE.

Despite its past academic success, the school, which was founded before the First World War, had been unable to attract sufficient pupils to survive. Its governors proposed a merger with the nearby Wycombe High School, saying that by the end of the decade they might have only 250 girls and would not be able to offer a wide enough range of subjects.

An action group was formed in 1991 to oppose the closure plan, but most parents accepted it as inevitable and agreed to move their daughters to Wycombe High. Some pupils are still using the same buildings, but they will move out next summer.

A spokesman for Buckinghamshire County Council explained that pupil numbers were falling in that part of the county, and as a result not enough girls now reached the standard required by the local grammar schools.

'Inevitably when you have an establishment which has been in the town for 60 or 70 years, as this one had, there must be some people in the town who are sad to see it go.

'I think it's fair to say that the county council is sad to see it go. But it was losing pupils and it was becoming so small that it wasn't really able to sustain itself.'

Some parents and staff have blamed the Government's education policies for the closure, however. Buckinghamshire tried to solve its falling roll problem by closing Burnham Grammar School in Slough, which currently has 560 pupils, 90 per cent of whom gained five or more A-C grades at GCSE, but this move was over-ruled by the Secretary of State for Education.

Local management, which makes schools responsible for their own budgets, ties funding to pupil numbers, making it increasingly difficult for small schools to survive.

Others have said that Buckinghamshire was to blame. If it had not moved the school from a town centre site to one on the edge of High Wycombe in 1988, they say, it might have survived. Most, however, have bowed to the inevitable. One parent, who did not want to be named, said that when the county held a meeting about its plans for the school, only a handful of people even turned up.

'I certainly thought it was a shame. It had its own ethos, it was smaller and friendlier and it wasn't so pushily academic as some of the other schools. But there didn't seem to be any alternative for our daughters and that's why there was so little opposition,' she said.

Margaret Dewar, chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, who lives in Buckinghamshire, said the decision of a local boys' school to take girls in the sixth form had also been a factor in the demise of Lady Verney High.

'It seems absolutely crazy. It played a very special role and was a very good girls' school, but you couldn't justifiably keep it open. It was a very difficult situation' she said.

When it closed, Lady Verney High had just 333 pupils, 43 of whom were taking GCSEs.

Wycombe High had 1,003 pupils, and its GCSE results were almost as good as Lady Verney's, with 98 per cent gaining five or more A-C grades. Its A-level results were better, with pupils averaging 19.4 points on a scale which awards 10 points for each A-grade and two for each E-grade.

The average A-level score at Lady Verney was 14.3 points.