Ireland’s sole remaining preparatory boarding school, Headfort School in Kells, is closing its doors and entering voluntary liquidation as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic.
In a letter to staff, the board has said: “It is with great sadness and regret that we write to inform you that Headfort School will close its doors and enter voluntary liquidation. This difficult decision follows a review of the implications of the Covid-19 Pandemic on revenues for the remainder of the 2019/2020 academic year as well as the outlook for 2020/2021.
The letter from chairman, Anthony Ardee, and board members, Alice Nugent, Anthony Rogers, and Aoife Chamberlayne, says: “Headfort is an institution that brought something completely different to the Irish educational environment. Unfortunately, the model was priceless yet costly and in recent times it has been a challenge to continue to provide the unique experience while seeking to maintain the costs at a consistent level for parents. The financial challenge presented by COVID-19 has made that challenge even more difficult. The continued uncertainty surrounding the timing of the school’s reopening has disastrous implications for both local and overseas students and the revenues that they provide.
Therefore we have been forced to regrettably acknowledge that Headfort School is no longer
financially viable to continue its operations. The Headfort Trust will continue to manage the international cultural asset that is Headfort House and will commence looking for a new tenant in the near future.”
Once the company is placed into liquidation, staff will be entitled to claim under the Insolvency
Payments and Redundancy Payments Schemesadministered by the Department of
Employment Affairs and Social Protection, teachers and staff have been told.
“The liquidator, once appointed, will assist you in the facilitation of the claims process and will be in touch with each of you to start this process. In the meantime, we will ensure that all required information is collated for the liquidator with a view to ensuring that the claims of the employees can be addressed as a priority upon his appointment.”
“We would like to express our deepest appreciation for your dedication and contribution, throughout your years at Headfort. Our thoughts go out to you and we wish you the very best during this uncertain time.”
Headfort School, founded in 1949 by Lord and Lady Headfort, caters for both day and boarding pupils from the ages of seven to thirteen. In 2002 the school started a Montessori division.
The school is non-denominational, respecting all religions and the right to have none.
Its premises, Headfort House is over two hundred years old, having been built for the Earl of Bective. It was designed by the Irish architect George Semple, using Ardbraccan limestone for its exterior construction. The interior was designed by Scottish architect Robert Adam. Headfort has the only intact Adam interior in Ireland. Much of the original furniture is still in place.
In 2008, Headfort School was the one of the settings for a movie shot on location in Ireland. ‘Casino Royale’ star Eva Green was joined by Juno Temple of ‘Atonement’, Imogen Poots, star of ‘28 Weeks Later’ and Maria Valverde (‘La Flaqueza del Bolchevique’) in Jordan Scott’s directorial debut ‘Cracks’.
Former principal, Lingard Goulding, son of Sir Basil and Lady Valerie Goulding, wrote a memoir of his time in the school in ‘Your Children are not Your Children: The Story of Headfort School’ published by the Lilliput Press in 2012.
‘School Life’ a documentary film on Headfort School teachers John and Amanda Leydon, was one of five Irish films on the Academy Awards long list in 2017.
At the time the Irish Times wrote: “Headfort is unique, established over 60 years ago as a kind of colonial outpost for the children of a class known not-so-kindly as West Brits, the kind who brought their ponies to boarding school and perpetuated their culture and traditions by bypassing the national education system.
Current principal Dermot Dix,a former pupil himself, takes that characterisation on the chin, wrote Kathy Sheridan, saying it died out decades ago.
“Yes, it would be apt enough to have regarded it as a West Brit establishment in the ’60s and ’70s, but it is very much not a West Brit establishment now. In 1977, my predecessor turned it into a school without any religious affiliation, so it was an early example of non-sectarian education.”
Nor is it a school for the gentry, he insists. Headfort is also a day school, which renders it less aloof from the surrounding culture. “For me, it is very important that the school become less and less elitist.”
The Times wrote: “There is clearly a determined, ongoing effort by Dix to raise money for bursaries for less privileged pupils, in a school that is entirely self-funding. Families include “some from quite poor, or immigrant or Traveller backgrounds,” he says.
“In any event, it’s possible that the gentry no longer have the wherewithal for the €15,500-a-year boarder fees – which work out at €460 a week, 34 weeks a year, or a bit less for the under-10 boarders.”