BY TOM BROOKS-POLLOCK A PRIVATE Catholic school in Bristol threatened with closure could be saved after hundreds of thousands of pounds were pledged in support and the nuns who run the school softened their opposition to it losing its religious status.
St Ursula’s in Westbury-onTrym was placed in administration last week after the order which runs it, the Sisters of Mercy, rejected plans submitted by the Oasis Learning Trust, a Christian education group, for the school to become a non-denominational state academy.
Oasis later entered into fresh discussions with the Sisters that it described as “positive”, after the nuns said that, although they would not fund a non-denominational Christian academy, they would not veto it either.
A local news website also reported that £400,000 of funding had been pledged “in just 24 hours” last weekend, including “a £300,000 loan from an anonymous parent to Oasis Community Learning to help secure the school’s future”.
The news prompted parents to delay sending their children to other schools, and raised hopes that St Ursula’s – which has long-standing funding problems due to declining pupil numbers – could reopen in time for the new school year.
Steve Chalke, Oasis chief executive, said: “Earlier in the week we knew we had a deal with the bank but the offer was rejected by the Sisters of Mercy. On Thursday we had a meeting with them and we are now in discussions with them.
“There was no outcome but it was a very helpful discussion. The talks will last into next week and there is potential for a deal. Things are looking far more positive than they were. We’ve discovered they seem keen to help and have assured us they don’t wish to close the school. We are in a good conversation.” The softening of the Sisters’ stance came after Charlotte Leslie, the Conservative MP for Bristol North West, where the school is situated, pleaded with them in a letter to accept the proposals put forward by Oasis, which already runs two academy schools in the city.
Miss Leslie wrote: “I understand the financial pressures put upon the order through having to pay compensation for previous, tragic, child abuse cases in the order’s history. I also understand and appreciate that the order has offered to pay back a generous sum of compensation, no doubt to make very clear the present priorities and ethos of the order, and the Christian Catholic faith it espouses, for today and for the future.” She added: “It would be a terrible, indeed perverse, advertisement of Christian charity and mercy if the order were to persist in refusing to accept this financially sensible, humanly compassionate offer.” Chris Thurling, who chairs a group of concerned parents, said private money and “people power” could save the school, which teaches 160 pupils and employs 40 staff.