City's top private schools to merge

TWO of Leeds' independent schools are to merge, to create an independent mixed senior school where boys and girls will be taught in separate classrooms.

Leeds Girls' High School and boys-only Leeds Grammar School have drawn up "unusual" plans to create a merged senior school with single-sex classrooms, but in a mixed-sex environment.

Last night the schools denied the plan was a cost-cutting measure, but admitted a predicted future shortfall in pupils had affected the timing of their decision.

Girls' school headmistress Sue Fishburn told the Yorkshire Post: "This is not an exercise in downsizing or cost-cutting, and we don't envisage any involuntary redundancies".

Both schools said their current pupil intake was "buoyant", and academic results were excellent.

Under the proposals, the senior school, for 11- to 16-year-olds, will be at the grammar school site at Alwoodley Gates, Alwoodley.

The building complex is relatively new and purpose-built. Around 400 sixth-formers would be taught in mixed classes there.

Junior pupils, aged from three to 11 will be taught at the current girls' school site on Headingley Lane. There would be a pre-prep school for 350 and a prep school for 450.

The merger plans have been unanimously backed by governors from both schools and headteachers.

Parents, who were told of the plans yesterday, are also believed to be generally supportive.

Liz Dallas, who has two boys at Leeds Grammar , said the plans were an "extremely good idea", especially for boys, who would benefit from the "civilising influence" of girls.

Barbara Hodkinson, who has children at the girls' school, said the merger was "perfect" because single-sex classrooms worked well, but it was important for the sexes to mix before they reached 18.

But other parents said they preferred strictly single-sex establishments.

In a statement the schools said the merger was proposed for 2007, and would create one of the country's flagship independent schools.

It would also create a sixth-form with a wider range of courses and better provision for specialism.

The statement said the merger would ensure the school success in a "shrinking and increasingly competitive market".

The new school would "combine the social benefits of co-education with the academic benefits of single-sex teaching in the formative adolescent years".

Governors said they did not expect any significant merger costs, although existing buildings at both sites would be adapted.

"A considerable amount of work will be undertaken before the two boards of governors reach a final decision. This will involve full consultation with all interested parties, especially parents," said the statement.

Mark Bailey, head at the grammar school, said: "A merger would allow us to combine the best elements of single-sex and co-education, and to create a distinctive sixth-form with a wider range of courses.

"We have a great opportunity to create one of the most prestigious and distinctive co-educational day schools in the country, which will serve the further development of the Leeds economy."

He added: "It's a merger without a closure. It is unusual, if not unique."

Mrs Fishburn added: "This is an exciting proposal. It recognises the special relationship that has always existed between the two schools."

The schools are joined legally and historically through a foundation, which has been considering for some time the future of the schools, along with the governors.

Leeds Grammar School, which was founded in 1552, moved in 1997 from Woodhouse, Leeds, to its current site at Alwoodley. It has 1,380 pupils.

Leeds Girls' High School was founded in 1876 and 990 pupils currently attend the school.

Annual fees for both schools range from about 4,000 to 7,000, depending on age.