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Downham Market Preparatory School principal Elizabeth Laffeaty-Sharpe says she ‘never thought it would end this way’





A principal who first set up her school four decades ago says she “never thought it would end like this” ahead of its closure.

Downham Preparatory School, which caters for children aged up to 13, will shut its doors for good on July 11.

The school was judged to be ‘Good’ in all areas by Ofsted, the education watchdog, in a report published just two months ago.

Elizabeth Laffeaty-Sharpe, pictured in previous years, ‘never thought it would end like this’ for Downham Preparatory School
Elizabeth Laffeaty-Sharpe, pictured in previous years, ‘never thought it would end like this’ for Downham Preparatory School

Downham Prep is adjoined to the Montessori Nursery, which will remain open.

Both are run by Elizabeth Laffeaty-Sharpe, who told the Lynn News that concerns about a future Labour government imposing a 20% tax on private school fees has heavily contributed to the closure.

The school also recently had an investor lined up to provide some much-needed cash, but Ms Laffeaty-Sharpe says the banks will no longer lend them money because investing in the prep school is considered too "high-risk".

A party will allow former Downham Preparatory School pupils and parents to celebrate its time in the area
A party will allow former Downham Preparatory School pupils and parents to celebrate its time in the area

"It is a nightmare, really, and we never thought that this would happen," she said.

"We never thought it would end like this. I thought even if I wasn't here, it would carry on."

Having first opened the prep school 40 years ago, Ms Laffeaty-Sharpe took it from catering for 16 children to a total of 142 just before Covid restrictions were introduced.

Now, there are just 40 children enrolled - with many parents simply unable to afford rising childcare costs.

Downham Preparatory School will close in July
Downham Preparatory School will close in July

Ms Laffeaty-Sharpe said a 20% tax on private school fees would be a "final nail in the coffin" for the Downham school.

"It is the children with special needs that it is going to be the hardest to find a new school for," she added.

"They worry me the most."

Plans for a special needs school to come to Downham were given the green light by Norfolk County Council last September.

Ms Laffeaty-Sharpe has confirmed that she has approached the necessary parties to see whether her "ready-made" school building could be used for the scheme.

She is now planning a farewell event for the prep school towards the end of term, with past pupils and parents invited along to enjoy a picnic and party.

"We want to go out with fond memories, rather than everyone going out with tissues and crying," she added.

A statement from the school said: “It is with great sadness that we announce Downham Preparatory School will be closing on July 11 after 40 incredible years."

Some replies to the social media post said the closure will be a “such a loss for the area”, while others described it as “very sad news”.

This is not the first loss of childcare services in Downham this year.

The town has already been rocked after Alpha Nurseries, which operated The Willows Day Nursery on Sovereign Way, told parents it had gone into liquidation, leading to its sudden closure.

Ms Laffeaty-Sharpe told the Lynn News in February that she was experiencing funding issues at the Montessori Nursery, but it will remain open for the moment.

However, she has again expressed fears for its future, saying that if the rates she is charged to run the nursery are not dropped, it may have to close as well.

High school places are also a problem in the town.

In January we reported that, with 300 families looking to secure a spot at Downham Market Academy for next year, at least 30 children looked set to miss out on their first choice.

A £400,000 grant from Norfolk County Council is set to allow the school to put additional classrooms in place.



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