More than £80,000 of public money was wasted on preparation work for a Tory-backed free school in Thornton Heath which never opened, according to figures released through a Freedom of Information Act request from Steve Reed OBE, the Labour MP for Croydon North.
The Advance School Norbury was finally abandoned in the summer, leaving dozens of parents and their five-year-olds high and dry after having chosen the free school as their first choice for a September school start.
Inside Croydon reported last January how the school’s founder was Russell King, a cabinet member in Conservative-run Wandsworth council, a former banker and most recently a wannabe primary school teacher, but who had emigrated with his wife to Australia after planning permission for the free school stalled.
With just seven months before his Advance School Norbury was due to open, with the three-forms-of-entry primary still listed on Croydon Council’s schools admissions page, no head teacher had been appointed nor had planning permission been granted to build on the council-owned Green Lane playing fields in Thornton Heath.
The wasted money on a Croydon free school is not an isolated example. According to Reed’s FoI, around the country a total of 21 free schools – a pet initiative of former education secretary Michael Gove – have been cancelled or, in one case, closed because of poor performance, at a cost of £1.126 million to the public.
At the time of the hiatus over the Advance School Norbury, MP Reed had been largely silent on the topic. Reed’s lobbying in South Norwood has led, albeit perhaps indirectly, to the former police station there being handed over for use by… a free school.
His recent FoI request appears to have been submitted to demonstrate that in Croydon, the Conservatives have had no qualms about considering building on school playing fields: the Advance School Norbury was to have opened in a disused charity shop while waiting for buildings to be constructed on 10 acres of publicly owned playing fields.
In all, £82,440 was spent on the abandoned Advance School, including £22,038 for property and planning fees and £60,402 for technical fees. Much, if not all, of this would have come directly from the Department for Education, rather than Croydon Council.
Labour is claiming that the total amount of public cash squandered nationally on Gove’s favoured dogma could be as much as £4 million, since the figures released so far do not include pre-opening expenditure grants and fees for all cancelled free-school projects.
Separate figures show that one-quarter of free schools that opened this year are situated in office blocks, not the “very handsome” buildings that Gove envisaged. It is also worthy of note that for a year, until September 2013, the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the education secretary was none other than Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central.
Thornton Heath did have a primary free school open in September, the Paxton Academy; this has started its existence with lessons being taught in Portacabins next to Streatham and Croydon rugby club, until it has a permanent building constructed on waste land next to Lidl on London Road.
- Labour MP Steve Reed MP gets his wish – a free school in South Norwood
- From the archive: How was your child affected by the Norbury free school shambles?
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Jan 3
- David Lean Cinema, Mr Turner, Jan 8
- David Lean Cinema, Leviathan, Jan 13
- Norwood Society talk: Penge, the making of a suburb, Jan 15
- David Lean Cinema, The 78 Project Movie, Jan 15
- David Lean Cinema, Hannah Arendt, Jan 20
- David Lean Cinema, The Imitation Game, Jan 22
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
- David Lean Cinema, Night Will Fall, Jan 27 (Holocaust Memorial Day)
- David Lean Cinema, Kon-Tiki, Jan 29
- Norwood Society talk: Crystal Palace and Dulwich, Feb 19
- Norwood Society talk: Charlies Dickens in Norwood, Mar 19
- Norwood Society: Balloons and airships at Crystal Palace, Apr 16
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