EXCLUSIVE: Whitgift School has charitable status and the generous tax breaks that go with it, yet they spared no expense for a piss up at one of the flashiest venues in the West End.
By GENE BRODIE, education correspondent
Whitgift School, the 1,400-pupil independent school in South Croydon, spent £30,000 on a party for its sports staff to celebrate the latest success of its rugby teams, Inside Croydon has discovered.
The extravagance is likely to lead to further calls from those, such as Labour MP Angela Rayner, who already question whether private schools should qualify as charities, and as a result receive generous tax breaks.
The party was held at the swanky Ritz hotel in Piccadilly. It marked Whitgift’s under-15s team’s victory in the NatWest Schools national cup final at Twickenham last March, rewarding the school’s staff for their hard work.
Whitgift is one of the Whitgift Foundation’s schools in Croydon, which include Trinity and Old Palace.
Whitgift charges the parents of day boys more than £20,000 per year in fees. For those staying at the school’s boarding house, the fees are nearly £38,000 per year. The boarding house has been such a success in attracting money from overseas that the school is working on plans to build another large dormitory building on Whitgift-owned land near to Pampisford Road, on the edge of its grounds in Haling Park.
The Whitgift Foundation has long had the support of the Croydon Establishment, through figures such as Gavin Barwell, pictured right, the former Tory MP who was a Foundation trustee and chairman of governors at his former school, Trinity.
Labour’s Sarah Jones, Barwell’s replacement as Croydon Central MP, attended Old Palace, where her mother was headteacher and later served among the trustees. Croydon councillors, even from the Labour Party, such as Toni Letts, the former Mayor of Croydon, now the chair of the planning committee, have also had long associations with the Foundation, which is the borough’s biggest landowner, its properties including the Whitgift Centre.
The argument put forward by the likes of Barwell when questions are raised over independent schools’ charitable status is that around one-third of their pupils receive subsidised education through its bursary scheme. This, they reckon, is “charity”.
Yet the reality is that the schools often use their bursaries to hand-pick talented pupils to help maintain its academic, arty and sporting reputations.
Whitgift School has an impressive reputation for excellence in academic subjects, modern languages, music, drama and a range of sports, particularly rugby. Much of that reputation has been built by its sports staff using subsidised fees and bursaries to recruit some of the country’s top teenaged footballers, rugby players and cricketers.
Past pupils at Whitgift, many of whom enjoyed part or full burseries to cover their school fees, include England international rugby fullback Elliot Daley, wing Marland Yarde (the pair played together in two winning Twickenham schools’ cup finals in 2010 and 2011), prop forward Harry Williams, and fly-half Danny Cipriani, plus England opening batsman Jason Roy and international footballers Victor Moses and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
In the case of Hudson-Odoi, it was Russian-owned Premier League football club Chelsea which paid the school fees for the gifted youngster, who has gone on to become a youth World Cup-winner with England.
On its website, Whitgift has an impressive list of “Sport, PE and Games” staff, numbering 24 in total – more than are listed for the school’s Mathematics department or English and Drama.
Whitgift’s sports staff list includes former Chelsea player and Crystal Palace manager Steve Kember, ex-Surrey cricketers David Ward and Neil Kendrick (who is listed as “Head of Cricket Performance/Head of Golf”), and they even have someone with the title of “Head of Strength and Conditioning”.
The school’s outstandingly successful rugby coaches in charge of the key under-15 and under-18 age groups squads are Chris Wilkins, a former Wasps player, and Adrian Norris.
Whitgift’s first XV and under-15s rugby teams, each with their own smattering of bursery-funded star players, are prospering again, both having reached the national cup semi-finals for their age groups, with the matches to be played next weekend.
For both sides, another visit to Twickenham is just one game away, while for the staff, another beano at The Ritz, or similarly luxurious venue, can’t be far behind.
This week, Inside Croydon contacted Whitgift School’s headmaster, Christopher Ramsey, to ask about the £30,000 party at The Ritz, and to seek his justification for such apparent extravagance by a school which has charitable status, ostensibly because it is supposed to provide bursaries for children from less-wealthy families.
Ramsey did not respond directly to us, but a member of his staff did. At first they sought to mislead over The Ritz party. “There was no recent celebration party held at The Ritz,” they stated.
We pressed them on their use of the word “recent”. Whitgift then confirmed that they have, after all, paid for staff to enjoy the high life at The Ritz.
“We hold Alumni and School events at various London venues, including The Ritz. Venues are often provided to us on a complimentary or discounted basis.”
They did not deny the £30,000 expense on the party. Perhaps they got a discount?
Nor did they seek to justify such expenditure by a school with charitable status.
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The Whitgift School always backing up the local Croydon economy. You would have thought with the number of established restaurants in their local vicinity they could have assisted them in the terrible business climate which their actions through the Whitgift Centre redevelopment has created.
Might it have been that the now-council-owned Croydon Park Hotel was already booked for the Coulsdon and Kenley Darby and Joan Club’s annual knees-up?
I was in a rugby team that lost to Whitgift by over 50 points in the 70s. I think they went to the Wimpy in George Street afterwards. My, how things have changed there!