Pupils at a £20,000 per year independent school in Old Town which is operated by the borough’s biggest land-owners will be told at assembly on Friday morning that it is to close after ‘many years’ of financial struggles
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Old Palace School, the large, fee-paying school for girls in Croydon Old Town, is to close in August 2025, it has been decided.
The Whitgift Foundation, Croydon’s largest land-owners who run Old Palace and two other independent schools in the borough, has sent out a letter today in which they say that there is “no viable alternative” to closure as “the school has been struggling financially for many years”.
Many will see the school as a casualty of a bungled £1billion property deal over the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre, the shopping centre and office blocks that were owned by the Foundation, which they announced nearly 12 years ago was to be rebuilt by Westfield. The redevelopment has never taken place.
The announcement of the closure of Old Palace seems certain to prompt speculation over the school’s sites and buildings, which include some important historic parts of the former home of Archbishops of Canterbury dating back to Tudor times.
Old Palace of John Whitgift School, to give it its full, formal title, has more than 800 pupils, aged from three-year-olds in the pre-school, to teenagers in the Sixth Form. School fees range up to £19,350 per pupil per year for those in the senior school from Years 7 to 13.
It has been a school since 1887, becoming a state grammar school in 1945 before going independent in 1975. It joined the Whitgift Foundation’s roster of schools only relatively recently, in 1993.
In a letter to parents and carers today, Christopher Houlding, the chair of the Whitgift Foundation, described the announcement as “some very unwelcome news, about which I am desperately sorry”.
Houlding wrote, “It is with deep sadness and regret that we have to share with you the news that the Foundation intends to close Old Palace of John Whitgift School in August 2025.
“I know that this will come to you as a tremendous shock. We ourselves are distraught at the thought of closing a school that was founded 134 years ago and which has enjoyed a finely deserved reputation for excellence in girls’ education ever since.
“We have done everything we can to avoid this outcome, but we have been left with no viable alternative, and I want to explain why we have reached this point.
“The background is that the school has been struggling financially for many years, and the Foundation has supported the school from its general reserves in the expectation that the financial situation would improve at some point.
“However, in recent years compounding factors such as the cost-of-living crisis, increased costs, the growth in expense for necessary capital investment projects as well as anticipated demographic changes have made the sustainability of the school beyond the short-term impossible.
“There is also the broader national context, with upheaval in the independent sector at the moment leading to a number of school closures as well as forced sales or defensive mergers.
“After a great deal of consideration – including exploring options such as a potential relocation and investing in a whole new school – the very regrettable position is that the Court of the Foundation has been left with no alternative but to announce its intention to close the school in August 2025.
“All the analysis and evidence suggest that the school’s finances will only deteriorate, making the sustainability of the school beyond the short-term impossible.
“We will need to formally consult with staff, and their representatives, and inform the [Department for Education] and other stakeholders.
“Ultimately, the view of the Foundation is that – however distressing it is for everyone involved – the option which brings the most certainty and clarity will be to close the school in an ordered way, giving families up to two years’ notice so they can make other plans in as considered a way as possible.
“We remain committed to providing a high-quality educational experience until Summer 2025 and so your daughter can remain at Old Palace until this time.
“The most important consideration is of course your daughter’s continuing education, and it is for this reason that as of today Mrs Burton [Jane Burton, the headteacher] will be contacting local independent schools and relevant local authorities to explain the situation. Our existing close contact with these other schools in the area will mean that a full and open discussion can be had with their headteachers about the availability of
places at their schools.
“Our aim is to ensure the impact on your daughter’s education is minimal and we will remain in close touch with you as things develop in order to do what we can to support you.
“You may have lots of questions as you come to terms with this news…
“I am sure you will wish to speak to your daughters about this as soon as possible. For our part, Mrs Burton will be speaking to pupils tomorrow in assembly to explain the situation to them.
“We know that the Old Palace community will come together at this time to support each other as it faces the demands of this difficult and very sad time for everyone here.”
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