Local MP claims she is ‘picking up information from a standing start’ over plans to close 600-pupil girls’ private school, but says she has obtained guarantees from the property Foundation that runs the site.
By STEVEN DOWNES
Sarah Jones, the Labour MP for Croydon Central, today broke her silence over the planned closure of Old Palace School – as was revealed exclusively by Inside Croydon on Thursday.
In a tweeted statement, the MP said she was “gravely concerned” at the news. “This must not be allowed to be a time of decline,” Jones wrote.
Jones is a former pupil of Old Palace, where her mother, “Mrs ‘Geography’ Jones”, was a long-serving and much-admired teacher.
Inside Croydon was first to report that the Whitgift Foundation, who oversee Old Palace, had written to parents and guardians of pupils at the £20,000 per year private school to tell them of its closure plans.
The Foundation, Croydon’s largest land-owners, said that there is “no viable alternative” to closure as “the school has been struggling financially for many years”.
The announcement of the closure prompted immediate speculation over the school’s sites and buildings, which include some important, Grade I-listed parts of the former palace of Archbishops of Canterbury that date back to Tudor times.
Old Palace of John Whitgift School has around 600 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, joining the Whitgift Foundation’s roster of schools relatively recently, in 1993.
In his letter, Christopher Houlding, the chair of the Foundation, wrote, “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.”
In Jones’s statement, she revealed that she had held an emergency meeting with Houlding last night.
“Like others, I am gravely concerned,” Jones wrote.
“I spoke to the chair of the Whitgift Foundation yesterday evening.
“The chair told me that the financial situation means that the Foundation believes that closure of the school is the only option. We talked through other possible scenarios and why the Foundation decided that they would not work.
“The chair told me that his first priority is to ensure all the girls at the school are successfully supported into a new school.
“Second, he guaranteed that the Foundation is committed to finding a way of preserving the legacy of the school, its alumni and everything that it has achieved since it opened in 1887.
“Third, he guaranteed me that the Foundation will not let the wonderfully historic buildings fall into dereliction and he will not allow the site to fall into decline. The Foundation is committed to working and collaborating to make sure what happens next is what people want and will add value to the local community.
“Finally, on the issue of teaching girls in future, the Foundation agree[s] that this is a very significant issue and they told me they will be applying every sinew to work out what comes next.”
In her statement, the MP claimed that she had not seen any financial figures (they are all publicly available from the Charity Commission), “and I can’t therefore at this point have a view on them”. She whinged that, “We are all picking up information from a standing start.”
She continued, “The site is incredibly important to Croydon and I want to be intimately involved in where we go from here…
“Wherever we go with what happens next, this must not be allowed to be a time of decline and must instead be a chance to cherish what we have and build our community.”
Read more: Whitgift Foundation decides to close Old Palace School in 2025
Read more: Old Palace closure brought on by shaky Foundation finances
Read more: Falling rolls and rising fees: how Old Palace got squeezed
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