MEMBERS of the Shaftesbury community have spoken out following the closure of “a unique and exceptional school”.

One added that the establishment could have been rescued if governors were more “transparent about the situation”.

As previously reported, on July 15 St Mary’s Shaftesbury announced it would not be reopening in September, and despite a turnaround with the launch of a steering committee, more than £400,000 raised and investment plans underway, the school did not secure enough pupil admissions for the autumn term.

The confidence of parents had been “sufficiently dented” following talks of administration.

A parent of two St Mary’s pupils, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was not viable to open the school without the required number of pupils.

They said: "The demise of St Mary’s is entirely due to the governors and it could so easily have been avoided if they had a shred of business acumen.

"As soon as the committee looked at the books it became immediately clear that there was no need for St Mary’s to have been put into administration in the first place. It seems that when the [initial] Chinese deal fell through, [the governors] just gave up, bringing to an end a 75-year-old school.”

The parent added: “If the governors had acknowledged that there was a power-house of knowledge and experience amongst the parent cohort and had been transparent about the situation, then we would have jumped into action and there would have been a very different outcome.”

In a tribute to the school, Catherine Ridge, a member of the Save St Mary’s committee, said that St Mary’s “recognised each child as an individual and enabled them to thrive”.

She added: “The closure of St Mary’s is not only devastating for the pupils and teachers but also for the wider Shaftesbury community who were employed or provided services there.

"To suddenly lose your livelihood without any notice and particularly in the current climate is devastating and my heart goes out to everyone affected.

"It is hard to define what it was that made St Mary’s such a unique and exceptional school, but I think I speak for everyone connected with it when I say that it is absolutely irreplaceable and will always be missed.”

Shaftesbury Councillor Andy Hollingshead said he was “saddened” to hear the news, adding: “I have a number of friends whose daughters were once pupils and I know how happy and successful the girls were. Of course, this is also a blow for the town, for local businesses and for everyone who was connected with the school.

"I’m sure I speak for all when I wish the school, its staff, and all the girls and their parents the very best in this difficult time.”

Dorset Councillor for Shaftesbury Derek Beer said the school closure was “a nasty blow” to the town.

He said: “Working in that type of environment creates a great sense of belonging and camaraderie, and can at the same time feel very rewarding looking after the wellbeing of young scholars who come to depend on the staff in the absence of families, who can be hundreds if not thousands of miles away.

The school had around 120 members of staff, and Cllr Beer added: “It is quite a blow to the local economy too, not just with the loss of jobs, which is bad enough in itself, but also with those businesses which supplied so much to the school every day.

“All in all, the school closing will impact many aspects of Shaftesbury life.”

Town councillor Peter Yeo added: “I’m disappointed to hear that St Mary’s is closing down after so many years of being an excellent private girls school on Shaftesbury’s outskirts.

"Here in the East of Shaftesbury we would often see the girls, many from overseas, heading in to Shaftesbury via Mampitts Lane. I hope that we will soon see it reopen as a school, or business, that will be an asset to the area and continue to provide local employment.”

Two of the former members of staff have been recruited as town ambassadors for Shaftesbury's temporary pedestrianisation, which Cllr Piers Brown described as "a small silver lining".

He added: "It is always disappointing when an employer closes down, especially when it is such a well loved school as St Mary’s. I know this must be very hard news for former staff, pupils and alumni alike and I would like to wish them all well."