900-year-old Thetford Grammar School to be bought by overseas investors to ease stretched budget

Thetford Grammar School.

Thetford Grammar School. - Credit: Archant

A 900-year-old independent school in Norfolk - one of the oldest in the country - will be bought by an overseas investor after dwindling intake left funds stretched.

Mark Bedford, headteacher of Thetford Grammar School. Picture: Submitted

Mark Bedford, headteacher of Thetford Grammar School. Picture: Submitted - Credit: Archant

Thetford Grammar School (TGS), which is older than Eton, Harrow and Cambridge University, will be taken over by Thetford Grammar School Limited, a UK company funded by the Hong Kong-based China Financial Services Holdings (CFSH).

In March, headmaster Mark Bedford, who will remain in the role, said the school’s pupil numbers had dropped by about 100 over the last 10 years, affecting its funding.

At the time, the school had 221 pupils out of a possible 350.

He says the new owners will offer the school the financial stability it needs and will in particular enable investment in IT and transport.

“The acquisition of the school by new owners enables us to secure the future of TGS for generations to come,” he said.

“Like many independent schools, we have faced a tough financial environment over recent years, but by taking prompt action we have been able to place the school on a firm financial footing for the future.”

MORE: Thetford Grammar School headmaster has said school finances not as ‘rosy as it could be’Mr Bedford, who joined the school in September 2015, said the financial downturn from 2008 to 2012 had hit independent schools all over the country.

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The deal, which is expected to be completed towards the end of June, will not affect school life, Mr Bedford said, and there are no redundancies or leadership changes planned.

“Our priority is to ensure that many generations to come will be able to send their children to TGS to enjoy the quality teaching and happy environment we have here for our pupils and students,” he said.

“We will continue to take all decisions with the best interests of our pupils and students at heart, and I want to reassure parents that it is very much business as usual – with the added bonus of being able to plan to make investments in the school for the future.”

CFSH, established in 1993, is a company listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange. It is described as a “non-bank financial institution” which has a “great interest” in education.

Thetford Grammar School: A history

The school traces its origins to AD 631, when it is likely that Sigbert, King of the East Angles, provided a school for his court in Thetford.

But the first documented evidence came in 1114, a letter written from Herbert Losinga, Bishop of Norwich, restoring the school to Bund, Dean of Thetford.

The school survived the Reformation, and operated in a one-room Elizabethan building for 300 years. Its pupils included American revolutionary Thomas Paine.

The school was developed during the 1880s, and in 1888 it was joined by the Victorian Girls’ Grammar School, built across the road.

They continued to grow, adopting voluntary controlled status - where a school has a minority of church-appointed governors - in 1944, and forming one establishment in 1975.

The school returned to independence in 1981, and was redeveloped during the 1990s and 2000s.

In 2007, its Cloisters Sixth Form Centre opened.

In 2014 it marked 900 years since Losinga’s document marked its existence.

• What do you think of the announcement? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk