Reopen the Friends as a state school? We think so. And we’ve urged Essex County Council to take action

Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) has urged Essex County Council to adopt the private Walden School (formerly the Friends’ School) as a state institution when it closes in July. Last week the independent school announced that it would close its doors after 300 years due to falling numbers of fee-paying students. The closure is against a backdrop of a chronic shortfall in local state-school places.

Worrying time for staff and parents

Paul Gadd (R4U) Paul Gadd (R4U)

Residents for Uttlesford’s Paul Gadd, leader at Saffron Walden Town Council, said “We are sad to see such a historic institution close – the Walden Friends School is part of the fabric of our town. It is an especially worrying time for the staff, pupils and their families, as well as the local sports clubs that use the facilities. However its closure presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Chronic shortage of school places

R4U’s Paul Gadd continued “Parental choice disappeared long ago in Uttlesford. Even many pupils that actually live in Saffron Walden can no longer get into to the Saffron Walden County High. And poor long-range planning for new homes by both UDC and ECC means that it will only get much worse, with a school places deficit forecast of 30% over the next 10 years.”

The Saffron Walden County High School is full, and even has a banner on its website front page which says “Admissions: Please note we are currently full in all year groups.”

Plugging the gap – R4U urges ECC to take urgent action

R4U has asked Essex County Council to take immediate action. R4U’s Paul Gadd said “Residents for Uttlesford was elected to make a difference for local people. So last week we seized the initiative and wrote to ECC to urge them to turn the school over to state sector operation. We are awaiting their response.”

“We’ve also asked them to consider asking the Saffron Academy Trust, who run the SWCHS, to run the school. This would immediately fill the primary and secondary school places deficit in Saffron Walden and the surrounding villages, restore parental choice, and offer an outstanding ‘SWCHS education’ to many more pupils.”

“A new secondary school is needed in Uttlesford and buying an existing school site is more efficient to local tax-payers than funding the £40m cost of a brand-new school. But time is of the essence. If ECC fails to act quickly this unique site would likely be lost to new housing, and many staff-members will have lost their jobs.”

About Residents for Uttlesford

Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) is the local independent party of north-west Essex towns and villages. Formed in 2014 by a number of residents’ groups, the party believes that on local issues residents should decide, not Westminster parties.

R4U leads Uttlesford District Council (UDC). It is the fastest growing local political movement in its district. In its first election in 2015 it became the second party at UDC. In 2017 it solidified its position with a further by-election gain with 60% of the vote. In the May 2019 Local Elections R4U gained majority control of UDC winning two-thirds of the seats. The result delivered the biggest loss of seats by any UK Conservative controlled council in the UK.

R4U’s success has been based on the desire to give local people a voice and implement long range strategic and sustainable plans for their area.

R4U also leads Saffron Walden Town Council, where under its stewardship the council has rebuilt finances, invested in community assets, and won multiple awards, including the best run council in Essex. It is a minority party on Great Dunmow Town Council.

Residents for Uttlesford can be found on the web at

4 Replies to “Reopen the Friends as a state school? We think so. And we’ve urged Essex County Council to take action”

  1. Maxine Banks

    We don’t need another State Secondary School in the Town, not least because if there was one, it would inevitably play second fiddle to the excellent secondary school we already have (Saffron Walden County High School (SWCHS)). SWCHS should take over this building and expand. It could be used as a venue for a lower school (years 7 and 8). I think it would be counter productive to create a new school because parent’s would still want to send their children to what would still be considered the best school in town. I doubt there would ever be one to rival SWCHS – so surely it makes sense to simply expand the great school that we already have and solve the fact that it currently can’t offer enough places for everyone who wants one.

    • R4U

      Hi Maxine, we agree with you! Competing schools divide communities, so the perfect solution is it to become part of the Saffron Academy Trust and ideally part of the SWCHS as you suggest.

  2. Sara

    I would just like to say that the fight to save the school is not over and I feel it is rather insensitive of you to print this before the outcome is known. You say ‘when the school closes in July’. It is not yet a done deal and we need to be supporting the amazing teachers who face losing their jobs and 280 children who will be without a school place! Please think about how this will affect pupils in the middle of GCSE or A level courses. The nursery is outstanding and has done wonders for our 3 year old son who we think is likely on the autistic spectrum. The nursery is fully booked in September! Please show some support for the teachers, parents and children at this difficult time. Dr Sara Macbay

    • R4U

      Sorry if you feel that way Sara. You are right that the school offers some exceptional teaching and things that are not available locally elsewhere. If it closed, it will be a sad loss. However the school itself publicly triggered the consultation period on it proposed closure last week, giving 8 ticking weeks for the families of staff members and pupils to make alternative arrangements. Part of the point of a consultation is to make the news public so that all options can be considered by all parties, and hopefully a new owner found to save jobs and assure school places. As soon as the school broke the news last week, we started to looking into things. Last week the Walden Reporter indicated that there were 280 students and 140 staff. That is 2 students paying for each staff member, and then there are buildings, equipment, operations etc. to fund. With a reduced new student intake it seems like the school has felt it is in financial stress – and indeed its financial accounts bear this out. We understand that it had already explored options for some time, including being acquired by another independent school, but found none. That doesn’t leave many options to retain it as an educational establishment at the heart of Saffron Walden. And the clock really is ticking. If ECC can move quickly (within the 8 week consultation), maybe the school can be saved, jobs retained, and transitional arrangements put in place for students who are in the middle year of GCSEs and other exams. That is what we have urged them to do as it seems like it will give a good outcome. The other option was to sit on the side-lines, passively watch all unravel, and say afterwards that there was nothing that could be done – but that’s not the case and it’s not us.

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