Shock as The Minster School is closed – as York Minster suffers a ‘catastrophic loss of income’

The Minster School, next to the cathedral. Photographs: Richard McDougall
3 Jun 2020 @ 5.30 pm
| Education

The Minster School will close at the end of this term.

One of the oldest schools in Britain, dating back to 627, the independent prep school will shut for good after the cathedral suffered a ‘catastrophic loss of visitor income’ due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Parents and staff were informed of the proposals today.  The school’s 95 pupils, aged between four and 13, will be given support to find places at other schools, and a formal consultation process has begun for the 34 staff.

The Dean of York, the Right Revd Dr Jonathan Frost, said that it was a terribly sad day for York Minster and for parents, staff and pupils of the school.

But the Chapter of York, the Minster’s governing body, felt it was left with no option with an income loss of more than £5 million this year.

Shortfall of £5.2 million

Part of York’s fabric

Dr Frost said: “This particular crisis means the investment we were putting into the Minster School is no longer sustainable.

“Until Covid I was working very closely with the excellent headteacher and the school has just received an excellent rating from The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI).

“Like many independent prep schools, numbers were always an issue but we were seeing numbers begin to grow again. Our focus was on seeing the school flourish.

“Since Covid a number of families indicated they would be unable to keep their children at the Minster School.”

He said there are currently no updates on what will happen to the school buildings.

Severe shock

Photograph: Richard McDougall

Before the outbreak the Minster expected income of £9.4 million income in 2020 – but it now anticipates a shortfall of up to £5.2m.

The Chapter was investing about £750,000 a year in the school, with a recent planning application submitted at the start of May seeking permission for renovation works to the reception area.

“The severity of this shock to our system is only compounded by the unlikelihood of visitor numbers returning to 2019 levels in the foreseeable future,” Dr Frost said.

He added:

  • With a £5.2m shortfall in 2020 and no return of visitors to 2019 levels in the short to medium term, such investment is no longer a viable option.

    Intelligence drawn from the wider independent preparatory school sector suggests that the Minster School will be far from unique in facing this kind of dilemma.

Choristers continue

Children from The Minster School make their way to York Minster. Photograph: YorkMix

The Minster School has operated on its present site since 1903.

Children heading across the piazza to York Minster to undertake choir rehearsals is a familiar sight in the city.

Today the Chapter announced its intention to continue the long commitment to the Anglican choral tradition, and to the education of its choristers, in partnership with St Peter’s School.

In this new partnership, choristers will continue to be trained by York Minster’s Department of Music.

William Woolley, Chair of Governors at St Peter’s School, said: “The Minster with its wonderful choral singing is hugely important not only for York but also nationally and internationally.

“St Peter’s School is proud to become the Choir School of the Minster and to continue the excellent education of the choristers after the sad announcement.

“We will now have an important addition to our already world class capabilities at the same time protecting this great York cultural tradition.”

  • Additional reporting: Chloe Laversuch, York local democracy reporter