FORMER pupils at a closed private school are in limbo after struggling to get bursaries elsewhere.

Up to 20 children who had attended St Hilda’s School, in Imperial Avenue, Westcliff, thanks to discretionary bursaries, have been unable to get places at Thorpe Hall School, in Wakering Road, Southend.

Thorpe Hall headteacher Andrew Hampton has tried to take in as many of the St Hilda’s pupils as possible, but says its bursary scheme is full.

Distraught parents from St Hilda’s are now facing a race against time to find suitable placements for their youngsters who were given the bursaries at the now shut school for being academically or musically gifted, or excelling at sport or for requiring the special pastoral care.

Jo Hitchcock, a former maths teacher at St Hilda’s, had bursaries for both her daughters India, ten and Daisy, 11.

Mrs Hitchcock, 43, from Daws Heath, said: “The bursaries were means tested and given if the school thought a child would benefit.

“Andrew Hampton asked us how much we were prepared to pay and said he was going to the board of governors on Monday.

He emailed me on Tuesday saying they were only honouring a bursary for one Year 11 pupil.

“I object to someone saying they are offering everyone a place, but neglecting to say everyone who is prepared to pay full fees.

“Daisy had just left St Hilda’s, but India would have been going back there. I’m very fortunate to have found a place for her at Holy Family School, in Benfleet, which is a wonderful school, but it’s been very stressful.

“It was a massive shock for the staff, a huge shock to everyone.

“Financially it’s been terrible for the teachers having to claim redundancy payments from the Government. We are all going to struggle for the next couple of months, but we’re looking to the future as best we can.” Another parent, who asked to remain anonymous, received a 50 per cent bursary for her six-year-old son to attend St Hilda’s and has so far failed to find a suitable alternative.

She said: “The bursaries were down to the headteacher’s discretion.

Our son got the bursary because she could see we wanted our child looked after with the school’s pastoral care. We still paid £1,000 a termwhich was still a great deal of money.

“We are beside ourselves over what to do. We may now have to look at home schooling.”

Mr Hampton said he was doing all he could to help the families of former St Hilda’s students.

He said: “We do operate a bursary scheme and the school makes charitable donations each year in the form of reduced fees.

Presently, we have our full allocation of subsidised places and our scheme was closed back in March.

“We are liaising with the Independent Schools Association to see if there is anything that can be done to further assist the St Hilda's families previously on bursaries, but the school is unable to deviate from its standard policies or re-open the scheme.

“To do so would be unfair to our existing Thorpe Hall pupils and their families and also to any previous bursary applicants.”