£82,000 wasted on Norbury free school that never opened

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.

Steve Reed: highlighted the costs of free schools - and Tories' desire to build on playing fields

Steve Reed OBE: highlighted the costs of free schools – and Tories’ desire to build on playing fields

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.

advance_school logoIn 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.

Coming to Croydon


  • Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 407,847 page views (Jan-Jun 2014) If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com


About insidecroydon

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Advance School, Croydon North, Education, Environment, Norbury, Paxton Academy, Planning, Schools, Steve Reed MP, Thornton Heath and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to £82,000 wasted on Norbury free school that never opened

  1. When the roster of those entitled to the soubriquet of “Infamy in Office” is compiled, reserved for those that have caused the most harm and damage to children, Michael Gove will head the list by far. In fact there is probably no living competitor!

  2. Mike Vessey says:

    Another typical piece of InsideCroydon party-political posturing. Michael Gove is the best thing that has happened to education in the country since the war. Our great education has been progressively destroyed by left-wing loons that wan’t to eradicate success by dragging everyone down to the same low level. Crap teachers are protected, and the best ones are hounded out for daring to challenge the status quo. Unfortunately, same happened to Gove.

  3. KristianCyc says:

    So both parties have toyed with the idea of building on school playing fields? Great, that’s the end of that farce and we can have a more grown up conversation about this between representatives of the two parties now (and one less campaign for Barwell to manage).

    I can dream…

  4. I would prefer schools working together ideally overseen by local authorities but for good or bad things have changed. I am aware of wonderful community schools and wonderful academy converters and know of free schools that have made great starts and show the potential of becoming great schools. I also know of schools that have let children down.
    The creation of a free school was the very best thing to have happened to my community and it’s primary school. The free school, not in my area ,was the ‘brainchild’ of the head teacher at my local primary school. When the head teacher’s school was eventually approved and at last they exited the building, the primary school at last had the opportunity to get its act together. The recent appointment of an experienced and dedicated head teacher makes me confident of much better times ahead.
    I do hope that somehow the free school manages to do the right thing for it’s pupils and families.

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