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Wednesday, 10 March 2021 18:38

The Private St Joseph’s Convent Preparatory School to close

Written by
Updated 12th March 2021

Whilst I do not normally cover private school matters, the closure of St Joseph's, a local school I have known for 35 years, is of special interest to me and so I have chosen to feature it here!

St Joseph's 2

A letter sent to parents yesterday explains that ‘ The school requires long term investment to secure its future.   We have explored many possible alternatives but unfortunately with no success’. Last year, the TES considered that up to 30% of private schools were at risk of closure because of the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, and St Joseph's may be still be paying the price of a controversial headteacher who almost brought the school to its knees in 2016.  

St Joseph's Convent Preparatory School is run by the Sisters of Mercy, based at their nearby convent in Gravesend, its proprietors being two of the nuns, ister Anne and Sister Magdelene. The Order is an international religious community of Roman Catholic women committed to serve people who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education with a special concern for women and children. Amongst its charitable activities, the Order runs schools across the world, including seventeen state and private schools in England, but many more in Australia and Ireland.    

I most recently visited the school two years ago, as the then temporary headteacher attempted to persuade me that the school had improved from a disastrous period two years previously, details of which I had published here. Ofsted in 2018 found the new head had greatly improved the school, but the advertising for pupils across the front of the site (picture above taken today) suggests it has probably not recovered its numbers, and the coronavirus crisis will almost certainly have taken its toll.

An article in the TES last May, before the worst of the pandemic effects had fully hit, was headlined 'Fears 30% of private schools will go bust: Independent schools forced to cut fees but cannot furlough teachers, in an 'impossible position' and running out of cash'. There are plenty more recent articles available on the Internet underlining the issues. The annual fees at the school of £8,580 are low compared to many other private schools, but the circumstances of many parents will have sadly changed so this amount has become impossible to find. The published accounts of this Private Limited Company and Registered Charity for the year ended 31st August 2019, show to my inexpert eye, that its net assets at the end of the year were just £151,832 down by more than half from the 2018 figure of £339,458. The difference is mainly accounted for by an additional £280,000 of outstanding credit run up by the school during the year. Surprisingly given the sharp decline in assets, the Trustees declared a reasonable expectation that the school had adequate resources to continue in operational existence for the foreseeable future. Clearly, they were wrong. 

The principal objects of the Company are to advance the Roman Catholic religion by the conduct of a Roman Catholic school and by ancillary religious and educational activities for the benefit of the local community. However, the main reason many parents have sent their children to the school is that it was seen as a good route to secure a grammar school place, but the 2019 Kent Test performance did not help, possibly because of low numbers with five or fewer children being found of grammar school ability out of six. Last October saw numbers improve with 16 children assessed, of whom at least 11 being successful (precise numbers not available from KCC), but probably too late to save the school. 

The old fashioned uniform appeared to reflect the ethos of the school and indeed the photograph below is the lead one to attract teachers on 'Kent Teach', the website where teaching vacancies are advertised. The entrance hall when I visited, was the most unwelcoming I have come across for many years, although the school did not think this relevant. One final thought; the school premises with its spacious grounds appear to be on a long term lease, possibly owned by the Order and would make an excellent site for redevelopment.

St Joseph's children  St Joseph's Grounds


I will update this article as and if I come across more material, which is probable.

Last modified on Friday, 12 March 2021 19:22


  • Comment Link Sunday, 23 May 2021 12:16 posted by Martin Hydes

    Sorry to learn of the forthcoming closure of the Convent Prep School which I attended in the 1950s.

    Many friends made - many still 'going concerns'. Much learnt - sufficient to pass the Entrance Test to King's Rochester. Thank you Sister Aloysius.

    In those days you walked to and from school (1 1/4 miles) so as to save the bus fare to spend in the sweet shop in Echo Square!

  • Comment Link Thursday, 11 March 2021 21:25 posted by Edmund McCarthy

    Let’s hope Mr Averre-Beeson is known to the Sisters-in order to avoid.. PETER: I think the previous boss of Lilac Sky Academies has made his pile, and many will hope he does not try any furhter get rich schemes. See The author of this post considers himself one of Beeson's victims; see comment at the foot of the same article.

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