School that educated Boris Johnson is to shut after coronavirus

Financial loss for parents and rise in fees pushes Ashdown House over edge

Ashdown House, founded in 1843, is to close its doors after failing to attract enough pupils to the £28,000-a-year boarding school.
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The preparatory school where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was educated has announced its closure as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Ashdown House, founded in 1843, is to close its doors after failing to attract enough pupils to the boarding school that cost £28,000 (Dh128,500) a year.

It is understood that a rise in school fees last September affected pupil numbers, compounded by many parents suffering financial losses during the lockdown restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The outbreak of the Coronavirus has had a very significant impact," the Cothill Trust, which owns the school, wrote in a letter to parents.

"From September, the school is now projected to be less than a third full following a decline in the number of international boarders and fewer new and current parents being able to take up their places for the next academic year.

“It is with great sadness, therefore, that we write to let you know that Ashdown will be closing at the end of this academic year."

Mr Johnson, 55, was educated at Ashdown House from 1975 along with his brother Jo Johnson, a former government minister, and sister Rachel Johnson, the journalist.

He developed his deep love of Ancient Greek and Latin along with rugby at the coeducational school, but was said to have been shocked at its use of corporal punishment.

The siblings’ names are believed to still be on the honours board in the school’s small library.

The headmistress, Hilary Phillips, disclosing her sadness at the closure. “I cannot properly express my sorrow at the announcement,” wrote Ms Phillips, who has been head only since September. “There are no words.

“I want to help each family and will make sure I communicate with each of you and work to making the best of this horrible situation."

She said it would be left to parents to break news of the school’s closure to the pupils.

“I expect there will be much speculation swirling around in the press and much will be untrue," Ms Phillips said.

"I will be in contact again once we have all had the opportunity to absorb the shock.”

The school is set on 16 hectares of grounds on the edge of the Ashdown Forest in Sussex.

Its brochure describes it as “a magical place where children strive, learn, laugh and thrive”.

Ashdown House was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, who also designed the famous columned portico of the White House and the Capitol Building in Washington, in the late 18th century.

The school was beset by allegations of physical and sexual abuse during the 1970s, which came to light seven years ago.

Other former pupils include Homeland actor Damian Lewis and journalist Alex Renton.