Boris Johnson's former prep school shuts permanently because of coronavirus impact

Bill Gardner
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits King's Maths School, part of King's College London University - Reuters

Boris Johnson’s former prep school is to shut down after 180 years due to the “harsh reality” of coronavirus.

Ashdown House Preparatory School in Sussex on Monday informed parents and teachers that it will close at the end of this term due to a sharp fall in demand for places.

Founded in 1843, the independent school charges boarding fees of £9,560-a-term and has long acted as a feeder to the country’s leading public schools including Eton.

But the impact of coronavirus has led to a decline in the number of international boarders, and fewer parents reserving places for their children.

According to projections, the school would have been less than a third full next year.

It comes as independent schools across the country come under increasing financial pressure due to the pandemic.

Mr Johnson attended Ashdown House as an 11-year-old in 1975, while his sister Rachel became the school’s first female boarder the following year.

“Aged 10 and living in Brussels, I was posted, like a lumpen parcel, to be the first girl boarder at a traditional English all-boys prep school, an institution that was pure Molesworth down to the gelid corridors smelling of homesickness and cabbage and howling skool dog,” Ms Johnson once wrote.

“This was Ashdown House, East Grinstead, Sussex, England, in 1976, where, in those days, the three Cs – the cane, cricket, and classics – were fetishistically followed.

“I was cold and hungry all the time: rations were so short and disgusting that I would huddle under my pink candlewick bedspread, sucking on a toothpaste tube to curb hunger pangs. I once found a live maggot wriggling in my shepherd’s pie, and showed the headmaster, who advised me to eat it (indeed, the maggot was probably the only nutrient served that lunchtime).

“Despite all this, however, I was happier there – shaggy, plump, and entirely the wrong sex – than I’d ever been.”

Boris Johnson as a child

Tom Beardmore-Gray, chief executive of the Cothill Trust which runs the school, said: “When the Trust first welcomed Ashdown into our family of schools over a decade ago, Trustees did so knowing that there were some very significant challenges that needed to be addressed.

“They were united, however, in the belief that everything that could be done to keep the school open, should be done.

“The harsh reality is that the impact of the Coronavirus has changed everything. In recent years the Trust has invested heavily in the school, and there has been a relentless drive to keep the school moving forward. Given the challenges the sector as a whole is now facing, it is not possible to maintain this support.”

The school, which caters for boys and girls aged 8 to 13-years-old, still plans to welcome back year 6 pupils later this week.

Last month this newspaper revealed that seven private schools have already closed across the UK, with one in ten said to be facing closure as a result of financial pressures heaped on them by coronavirus. Some schools have already told parents they will be increasing their fees to recoup extra costs.