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‘No longer viable’: council sounds death knell for Virgo Fidelis

Education correspondent GENE BRODIE on the impending closure of another, once proud and successful, secondary school

Lack of repairs and maintenance to Virgo Fidelis’s main building has hastened the school’s closure

Croydon Council’s ability to run down long-established church schools to the point of closure continues, while at the same time they have been lavishing tens of millions of pounds of public cash on academies and free schools.

Virgo Fidelis’s fate is sealed, with the large girls’ convent school in Upper Norwood being deemed “no longer viable” in a statement issued by the council today.

“The majority of the buildings are in poor repair and unfit for purpose,” the council states, without admitting that – as the local education authority – Croydon will have carried some responsibility for the buildings being allowed to deteriorate so badly.

The council has announced a three-week “consultation”, but it is clear that Virgo Fidelis will close at the end of this school year.

Inside Croydon reported in May this year of the abrupt resignation of the secondary school’s fourth headteacher in barely three years.

Virgo Fidelis, with the biggest budget deficit among all the borough’s schools, had been listed as “high risk” in a Town Hall report in early 2019. But the matter was never raised or discussed at the council meeting for which it had been drafted, pulled from the agenda by the cabinet member for finance, Simon Hall.

With another new headteacher, Grainne Grabowski, installed, Virgo Fidelis began the new school year last month, but with 240 pupils and staff dispersed to alternative sites away from its landmark Gothic building, not because of any covid-19 precautions, but because the 170-year-old building has been deemed unsafe, as was first reported by Inside Croydon.

With no funds available for the necessary repairs to the building, and against a background of a closed Sixth Form and falling rolls, Virgo Fidelis’s fate seemed doomed. Its demise follows swiftly on the closure of St Andrew’s High School in Waddon, and means that Croydon will have presided over the closure of two secondary schools in the space of 12 months.

Grainne Grabowski: head of Virgo Fidelis for just one year

In a statement issued by the council today, it said, “A public consultation has opened today (October 1) on a proposal to close Virgo Fidelis Convent Senior School in August 2021…

“The closure is being proposed by the school’s Interim Executive Board (IEB), with the support of the Archdiocese [of Southwark] and Croydon Council.

“As the local education authority, Croydon Council is seeking the views of those that will be directly affected, and anyone with an interest, on the proposal. This consultation, known as a pre-publication consultation, will run from 23 October 2020.”

The consultation page is here.

The council states, “Consultation responses will be presented to the cabinet member for children, young people and learning…”, which is Alisa Flemming, under whom the council’s children’s services department failed its Ofsted inspection, “… and the council’s executive director for children, families and education.” Of course, the council doesn’t currently have an executive director for children, families and education: Rob Henderson left his job in August, with no replacement arranged.

The council doesn’t state what Flemming and the non-existent exec will do with the responses. But you can guess.

“Subject to their approval, this consultation will be followed by the publication of the statutory notice, which will start a four-week representation period when any person can send objections or comments to Croydon Council.

“The Virgo Fidelis IEB is proposing the school’s closure because they believe that it is no longer viable – a view which is shared by the Archdiocese and the council. The majority of the buildings are in poor repair and unfit for purpose, with Year 10 pupils having to be taught at an alternative site. In addition, the pupil roll has fallen consistently over the past several years and the school budget has been in deficit. Consequently the school is increasingly unable to deliver the broad and balanced curriculum that would be expected of a modern secondary school.

Alisa Flemming: Virgo Fidelis will be the second secondary school she has closed in 12 months

“Earlier this year Virgo Fidelis took the decision, with the support of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, to suspend admissions for September 2020. Incoming year 7 pupils were offered alternative places at other local schools including Notre Dame High School, another all-girls Roman Catholic school within the Archdiocese of Southwark.

“Should the proposed closure be approved, pupils who are currently in Years 8 and 9 at Virgo Fidelis will be offered alternative places at other schools. Since September 2020, Year 10 Virgo Fidelis students have been taught on the site of St Mary’s Catholic Secondary School in Croydon, due to the condition of the buildings on the Virgo Fidelis site. Should the closure of Virgo Fidelis be approved, these pupils will be enrolled as St Mary’s pupils for Year 11, remaining in a single-sex location away from the rest of the school.

“The current Year 11 pupils will have completed their GCSE examinations in July 2021, before the proposed closure of the school in August 2021.

“Croydon Council and the Archdiocese of Southwark will work together to seek to redeploy all Virgo Fidelis staff, or as many as possible, into alternative positions in other schools locally.” Which is nice.