How was your child affected by Norbury free school shambles?

GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, makes an appeal to hear from parents who considered applying for a place for their son or daughter to attend one of Michael Gove’s promised free schools

advance_school logoInside Croydon wants to hear from you if you applied for a place for your four- or five-year-old child to attend the Advance Norbury free school, which had been planned to open this September.

Earlier this year, Inside Croydon reported that the scheme for the three-form-entry free school seemed to be less… well… advanced than it ought to be, since the man behind the scheme had opted to emigrate to Australia, and no head teacher had been appointed nor planning permission granted to build on the playing fields at Highbury Avenue in Thornton Heath. Our report was a caveat emptor to prospective parents.

Yet applications for reception class entry for Advance Norbury this year remained open throughout the usual application period.

Free schools, a policy strongly backed by the now-former education secretary Michael Gove, get their funding directly from the Department for Education, and are not subject to management from the local education authority. State-funded but not state- or local authority-controlled, free schools are widely viewed as another method for the Tory-led government to transfer public assets into private hands. In this case, they wanted to build on a large chunk of public playing fields.

It was not until the end of June – long after most school places for September 2014 entry had been allocated – that the DfE issued this terse statement: “The proposers of the Advance School have decided that they do not have the capacity to continue with this project. We have accepted the withdrawal of the application.”

Tory councillor and school "lead founder" Russell King: abandoned Advance Norbury free school

Tory councillor and school “lead founder” Russell King: abandoned Advance Norbury free school

The collapse of the plans for the school have potentially left 90 families forced to chase around to try to find an alternative school place for their child, long after all the first-choice places had already been allocated. This hardly reflects well on the “lead founder” of Advance Norbury, Russell King.

Until May this year, King was a Conservative councillor in Wandsworth, where he was the cabinet member for strategic planning. It is not thought that this was intended ironically.

A City banker until the financial crash, King re-trained as a primary school teacher who professed the desire to teach “in an inner city school with deprived children”. He is now in Canberra, presumably strategically planning another school for deprived children in an inner city.

As Inside Croydon first reported, even though there is acknowledged to be a schools places shortage in the borough, there were considerable reservations aired about the scheme.

Inside Croydon wants to hear from parents whose children’s future has been affected by the Advance Norbury debacle.

    • What attracted you to Advance Norbury?
    • Did you attend any open days or have an opportunity to meet the staff?
    • When applying for a place, were you ever warned that the school may not open?
    • Had you considered any other primary schools for your son or daughter?
    • On what date were you advised that Advance Norbury was not opening?
    • What provision has been made for your child to start at a school in September?

Contact us by email at with your answers to these questions and any other observations you wish to make about how the process was handled. We need to know your name and have contact details, but if you do not wish your name to be published, please specify “Confidential” and we will respect your wishes.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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1 Response to How was your child affected by Norbury free school shambles?

  1. derekthrower says:

    Apparently we are living through an era of austerity. The free school programme has allowed opportunists to waste precious resources without responsibility. It is interesting that the chief proponent Gove has been sacked and replaced by a Treasury minister. Amongst all the reasons why he has gone has been no mention of financial control. It will be interesting one day to find out what the true cost of the free school programme has been.

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