Whitgift Foundation decides to close Old Palace School in 2025

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

Under threat: Old Palace School includes buildings that date back to Tudor times

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”.

‘Inspiring girls’ futures since 1889′: there will be tears, rather than smiles, when news of the closure is announced at the school tomorrow

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.

Letter of doom: Foundation chair writes of being ‘distraught’ and in ‘tremendous shock’

“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.”

Read more: Falling rolls and rising fees: how Old Palace got squeezed
Read more: Ghost haunts ancient palace where Good Queen Bess slept

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16 Responses to Whitgift Foundation decides to close Old Palace School in 2025

  1. Charlotte Davies says:

    Mmm interesting! It seems a great opportunity to develop the school buildings into a building dedicated to the life of Archbishop Whitgift and his impact on the Church of England/English politics, society and language.

  2. JohnG says:

    It is such a shame to see the deterioration of Croydon and it bankruptcy by the Labour administration. It has lost the interest of many major Companies who once had large business centres in the town. It is Croydon that needs a bit of levelling up and regeneration but I cannot see that happening. All we seem to get is more tax and spend initiatives to support charities and services.

    • Not one to defend the wretched Labour council, but this is Tory self-inflicted damage, started by Barwell and the Foundation.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Sorry John have you missed the fact that Perry and the Council cut all support to many charities and voluntary organisations in the Borough?
      You know those same places that also took on a lot of statutory duties and the delivery of mandated services that the money was given by central funding to actually support? I do not know your political hue but no matter what party I may support at an election I do not hide or ignore their flaws and faults. I can see clearly that they were both culpable.

      Might it not be of value to recognise each for their values and their faults? You may find It might help change the boroughs narrative and it’s future. Maybe not but as the internicine political rubbish has killed the Borough its worth trying something different – would you not agree?

  3. Ian Kierans says:

    There are so many pressures on educators today not least the systems they are working with. Many parts of society have differing views on Grammer schools but the one fact is that schools provide education and good schools provide good education.

    Old Palace is a place that has provided more than good for a long time – yes at a cost to parents and yes in a manner not available to many in this Borough. But its value to its pupils who had that opportunity can never be understated.

    For this Borough to lose a landmark educator is a loss to the whole borough. It is more than money it attracts. It attracts familes that could and have invested in te borough and have added value overall. Those people bring value in the support to charitable organisations – fundraising and volunteering – pro bone professional help assistance to bodies and on trusts. A lot of contacts that also do the same. Many may not like their political persuasion be it Labour or Conservative Liberal or Green or even just a montage of beliefs as many residents really are. That loss will be felt and leave a large gap not noticable at first.

    So a factor may be a loss of revenue from investments. A factor may be that it is no longer economical as the Foundation has stated and they are unable to subsidise it any longer.

    Yet another unmentioned factor may just be its location.

    Old palace is a stones throw from Church street that yet again this week had another incident requiring the Police, Tram Incident officers and the London Ambulance service to attend.

    That location in the afternoons is prone to regular anti social behaviours and that is not a good environment for a school. Parents paying £10 – 19k can afford to go elsewhere to areas safer where council cuts affecting the environment are not impacting on their childrens growth or potential. Travel into the area is also quite difficult by car.

    So there may be an impact as those that have the cost also have better choices.

    Those that are being squeezed by the cost of living also have to move out of expensive areas that provide nothing in service or reasonable living environment in return thereby adding greater costs to an already tight budget.

    It will struggle to attract overseas students or even from other London areas as the Boroughs services deteriorate.

    So this may be just another symptom of the Government and te Council failures. But it will be a notable loss to the fabric of what Croydon was and no longer is.

    In my lifetime from the founding of the Borough in 1965 to 2023 The borough has been effectively systematically ruined by by those elected and those in charge of planning and generation. The last 12 years more so.

    Those Politicians,activists, and senior administrators wishing to celebrate those years leading up to the new boundaries – should actually reflect on that legacy and what they have left for future generations. But I doubt that any will.

    I for one will miss a good deliverer of education no matter if it is a state school or a non state educator. It would be great if the strucure and staff could form a co-operative and retain the good teaching in a self sustaining way and community support. But that would require support from a council and cross party work by political parties and free premises etc.
    And that is the real failures of this Borough partisan politic’s not in all residents interests.

  4. Jo Pickering says:

    How can the Whitgift foundation continue to support two boys’ schools in the borough and withdraw support from their only girls’ school? Nothing is explained properly above: were they not recruiting enough students? If so, we need to have a serious conversation about why families are happy to pay for an education for their boys and not their girls. It is 2023. At Trinity 50% of students attend on a Whitgift bursary, so is the problem getting this information to girls? What on earth are the ‘demographic shifts’ mentioned above? There was purportedly a baby boom in Croydon in 2012 and new primary schools had to be built. Some proper reasons need to be set out rather than this vague outline above

    • Flakes says:

      Well said

    • Gelber says:

      Can think of a few of factors there. Some cultures do, unfortunately, value boys’ education more than girls’ – and while that’s surely a minority, it only needs to be ten or twenty percent to make a difference to viability. The cost-of-living squeeze can’t have helped there.

      Then there’s competition. For the south of the borough, you’ve got Croydon High, Woldingham and Royal Russell. In the north, there’s several GDST girls’ schools, JAGS and Alleyns. Every one of them offers leafier surroundings and perhaps a better subjective sense of safety.

      As to the baby boom – there was indeed a boom in 2008-12, but OP is an all-ages school (prep as well), so they may have been feeling the effects of the bust since then on their younger intake. And anecdotally, a fair chunk of those boom families have since packed their bags, either having been priced out of London entirely or returned to their EU home countries post Brexit. Primaries in the area certainly aren’t overcrowded compared to a few years ago, catchment areas are less tight than they were.

    • Sarah says:

      Very well said! I hope OP parents will request a full investigation into the decision making process. If there is discrimination against the girls school action should be taken against the foundation. More should have been done to save this school or make the other schools co-ed to accommodate the girls.

    • Quite right Jo.

      In Afghanistan, the Taliban have stopped girls from going to secondary school, college and university.

      In Croydon, the local Church of England equivalent has decided to shut a girls’ school and effectively let them fend for themselves, rather than accommodate them in their two other exclusive boys’ schools.

  5. derek thrower says:

    So the sins of the Whitgift Foundation are visited upon the children.

    The loss of revenue from commercial property could no longer be sustained in the long run and the very purpose of the Foundation has been brought into disrepute by the catastrophic decisions of the Foundation and it’s advisors.

    Focusing on only one part of the business to take the hit does show the underlying ruthlessness of this organisation and the weakness in their model of single sex education.

    The loss of such an established institution, which a decade ago would have felt inconceivable, does show the dire straits this Country has fallen into.

    Will those who have contributed to this disastrous decline own up to their ineptitude? Everyone knows the answer to that.

  6. Dee says:

    Why full closure? They have the junior school and the seniors – is there no option to close one and keep the other? The PR of this is pretty bad – close the girls’ school but keep the 2 boys’ schools going. Having had one child go through Whitgift and one at Old Palace, I was much happier with the Old Palace experience than that provided by Whitgift for many reasons. The only downside to OP is the location, I can understand why it puts some parents off. Such a shameful loss of a great school and community.

  7. Tim Lewis says:

    If I had the money for those fees I wouldn’t be sending my girls to a school in central Croydon to be honest. Serious questions have to be asked about the charitable status of the Whitgift Foundation after a decision like this. As the largest landowner in Croydon I’m wondering what choices they’ve made to actively improve Croydon over the last decade. I’m curious if someone could also help with any resource where I can easily see all the property and land owned by the foundation because I would like to look into them further. Many thanks 😊

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