A GUARDIAN angel is needed to save Holy Cross Convent School, after the shock announcement that the nuns who founded it are leaving.

Teachers, pupils and former students of the private girls' school in Gold Hill East, Chalfont St Peter, were all surprised at last week's announcement that the sisters who have been trustees of the school since 1928 are leaving in August this year.

After spending nearly 80 years helping to shape the future of the likes of former pupil Zoe Ball, the sisters of the Swiss Order have decided to withdraw their ownership, because they say they are too old.

Their departure has left the school with an uncertain future, as it has always relied on the nuns' financial support.

Headmistress Margaret Shinkwin has denied that the school is closing but it is looking for a miracle.

Ang Alguire, a spokesman and former teacher at the school, said: "Staff were shocked and surprised. No-one saw it coming. We have been reassuring parents and students that everything will be OK and to have faith. We are looking for guardian angels to help us. The clock is running out and action needs to be taken quickly. So far parents are really supportive and we all hope something comes through. We need someone to come and rescue the school financially and keep it running. It is hoped that local businesses will give us their support."

Mrs Shinkwin spent last week reassuring the children that she and others are doing everything they can to keep the school open.

She said: "I completely understand their reasons for doing so, since the number of sisters at The Grange has diminished as their age has increased, and I thank them sincerely for the role they have played from the very inception of the school in 1928 to the significant support they have given in recent times. They will leave behind a tribute to their hard work, their generosity and loyalty a flourishing, successful school which is proud to bear the name of Holy Cross."

The convent is in a picturesque site of a former hotel and has more than 200 pupils, aged three to 18.

The sisters originally taught at the school, but have increasingly built up a lay teaching staff while the number of nuns decreased. There are currently only six nuns at the school.

Former pupil Zoe Ball

FORMER Holy Cross pupil Zoe Ball has described the nuns' departure as the "end of a golden era."

The 35-year-old radio DJ, who starred in last year's Strictly Come Dancing series, recalls her time at the school fondly and described this week as "a sad time."

She said: "It's sad that they are leaving.

"It's the end of a golden era for Chalfont St Peter.

"I don't think it will ever be quite the same.

"I wish them all the best."

Zoe attended the school during her teenage years, and says the nuns kept her and her friends on the straight and narrow.

She said: "I really did have a good time at the school.

"I think the nuns were fond of me for being naughty.

"I was a naughty girl because I used to play tricks on people.

"But we were good, really well behaved.

"We didn't get drunk.

"We were all protected in that school."

Zoe, whose father is children television presenter Johnny Ball, remembers three sisters in particular Sister Kevin, Sister Immaculata and Sister Agnes now deceased.

She said: "Sister Kevin used to say Zoe Ball, wipe up that smile off your face' but she was really very sweet.

"And Sister Immaculata was my form teacher.

"I did quite well in religious studies.

"I used to be able to recite the New Testament off by heart."

The star admitted that having nuns walking around the school was "just like the movies", as they wear their nuns' habits.

She joked: "It was like the movies although we never did a production of the Sound of Music.

"But we did put on our own bad plays."

Rachel Sixsmith & Carla Delaney