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Drive launched to Save St Bees school

20 March 2015

doug sim

A CAMPAIGN was launched in west Cumbria this week to save a historic Church of England school, St Bees (above), founded in 1583 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Grindal. St Bees is due to close at the end of the summer term because of financial pressures. A "stay of execution" petition to the governors attracted 3000 signatures within days.

The Archdeacon of West Cumberland, the Ven. Richard Pratt, said that closing St Bees - which currently employs 120 people - would be a huge loss to the area and to the diocese.

Last week, in a letter from the chairman of governors, Emeritus Professor Frank Wood, parents were told that the school was financially unsustainable. Along with other independent schools in the north-west, St Bees had been badly hit by the recession and declining pupil numbers, the letter said. Joining the state system as a free school was not a viable option, it said.

But, in a letter sent on Tuesday to the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, the local MP, Jamie Reed, asked for direct assistance from the Department for Education to secure St Bees's future by conversion to an academy or free school. Because of industrial development planned for the area, there was an increasing need for school places, the letter said.

Archbishop Grindal established St Bees as a free grammar school. The school later became fee-paying, but retained strong C of E connections. The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, is a governor, and the Vicar of St Bees, the Revd Clifford Swartz, is the school chaplain.

Among several clergymen educated at St Bees were the 18th- century parson-painter the Revd William Gilpin, who coined the term "picturesque"; and the Bishop of Rangoon from 1935-51, the Rt Revd Algernon West.

During the First World War, three former pupils were awarded the Victoria Cross; in the Second World War, another old boy, Air Vice Marshall Sir Augustus Walker, lost an arm while attempting to rescue crew from a crashed Lancaster bomber. Probably the best known old boy is the actor Rowan Atkinson.

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