MP Jones ‘gravely concerned’ over closure of her old school

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.

OP old girl: Labour MP Sarah Jones claims she has not seen any figures from Whitgift Foundation to justify their plan to shut Old Palace private school

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.

Heritage site: the school uses parts of the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace

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.

Guarantees: MP Jones says that the Whitgift Foundation chair has promised to maintain the school’s Grade I-listed buildings

“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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14 Responses to MP Jones ‘gravely concerned’ over closure of her old school

  1. Andrew Pelling says:

    Labour party policy is to introduce 20 % VAT on school fees and to abolish the charitable status of independent schools.

    • Anthony Miller says:

      You could probably make a good argument for no VAT on school fees if since it was introduced it’d actually resulted in fees going down ….instead private school fees have spiralled…. by several hundred percent since the 80s… they even ended up being told off by the monopolies commission once…. the now crippling costs may be related to less people wanting the product…. why spend £100,000 on educating a child from 11 to 16 when you could just invest the money so they have a financial cushion for… of course you can’t just see the value of education just purely in monetary terms but… even Ms Jones on an MP’s salary would probably have to think twice before….

      Let them pay VAT , then Adam Smith’s invisible hand will sort the rest out…

    • Mathew Hill says:

      Yes, but hopefully, and presumably, this eminently sensible policy will apply equally to girls *and* boys fee-paying schools.

      Far be it for this comp-educated leftist to particularly bemoan the closure of any expensive private school, but it is striking that it’s only Old Palace (which already absorbed another high-performing private girls school, Croham Hurst, in 2008), and not any of the boys schools (i.e. Whitgift and Trinity) operated by the Whitgift Foundation, that is to closed.

      Is it because even those with resources do not take girls’ education as seriously as boys’? Or are there other, less concerning, reasons for the closure (i.e. have a number of new fee-paying girls schools emerged in the last few years within or around Croydon?)

      • Raymond White says:

        Alas. It’s the latter. We were in the market for a school for our daughter. However, we had to rule our OP due to the unsafe nature of central Croydon. Bearing in mind we had sen tour son to one of the boys schools.

        We received a survey a few months ago from the foundation asking those of us with sons as the boys schools whether we had considered OP and the reasons for not choosing it.

        It is a real shame as diversity and quality of education are great. The condition of some of the senior school and the location were too big to ignore.

        I do wish they had moved the senior school to another site. There is still a market for independent education for girls but Croydon High, Sutton High and others slightly further afield from Croydon central are now the preference.

        • Mathew Hill says:

          “we had to rule out OP due to the unsafe nature of central Croydon.”

          Alas, in view of today’s terrible news, it sadly appears that your statement was all too prescient. Reportedly, the 15-year-old victim of this morning’s horrific knife attack was a pupil at Old Palace.

    • These schools aren’t really charities, Andrew. They don’t save lives like the RNLI do, rescue animals like the RSPCA or help people with cancer.

      They’re run by the rich, for the rich, at the expense of us mugs. Eton isn’t a charity. It’s a training ground for Tory toffs to boss us plebs about, churning out snobby vandals like Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

      They’re really businesses, and should be taxed as such

      • Shifra Sheikh says:

        The conservative government gave me an assisted place to attend this school. I, and many others who benefited from this policy (google it Arfur) would not have been given opportunities as those I was afforded at this school. This policy, of allowing an equal chance for those to attend fee paying schools not from a privileged background, have allowed me to contribute to the social welfare system as a UK taxpayer all my adult life. I have never claimed benefits abd even now, have no recourse to public funds ; not even child benefit for my own children. This school was more than a business, it was a lifesaver. I am heartbroken at this news and all the ignorant comments .

        • Anthony Miller says:

          “I have never claimed benefits abd even now, have no recourse to public funds ; not even child benefit for my own children”

          I’m not really sure how or why that’s a proud boast. Even my mum claimed the Family Allowance and she was a private school teacher. Loved going with her to the Post Office to collect it. It was hardly a lot but it was a sort of recognition by the state that children matter and she often told us what it had been spent on. Thank you Wilson/Callaghan/and evenThatcher/Major

          And you should always sign on when not working to get your NI stamps if nothing else. You pay on why not claim?

          Assisted places of which there were very few are long gone now it’s just bursaries and scholarships and who knows how they’re doled out? I remember us laughing once when we discovered that someone in the D stream had got a scholarship because his dad has been to the school … it’s only by the time I left I realised that not everyone paid the advertised prices. Think I was a BOGOF deal …

          It’s funny how you see VAT excemption and assisted places as sensible public subsidy but seem to frown on child benefit… because in the end they are all benefits…it’s just who you give them to. Assisted places went to the supposedly very bright and gifted which was nice…. but what about us dimwits?

          • Ian Kierans says:

            You might find signing on a bit difficult. It does not occur nor is required. You have to claim universal credit. If you do not, the job centres are not interested. Apparantly, unless you actually want a benefit, assistance back to work may be difficult to obtain at the so called JobCentres

        • Mathew Hill says:

          What ‘ignorant comments’?

          I don’t think anyone here is arguing for the abolition of private schools entirely (although I appreciate that there are those, perhaps further to the political left, who may be of that mindset.)

          However, the argument is whether educational establishments that confer a social and professional advantage to the financially well-resourced, as well as a *small* number of particularly intelligent and able children from less privileged backgrounds, like yourself, should benefit from ‘charitable status’. Are the activities that independent schools are engaged in of sufficient public benefit?

          And, for what it’s worth, I did argue that it was a shame that a high-performing and well-regarded *girls* school was being closed.

    • The rate of VAT is not fixed at a historic high of 20%, and any Chancellor with any sense will seek to reduce it, and its burden on consumers, at the earliest opportunity.

      But private school businesses, run by land-owners and property developers, should not have charitable status.

      • Ian Kierans says:

        It could be better to ensure that sales of goods that take place in the UK and profits earned in the UK are ALL subject to the going rate. When that happens we may find that VAT can return to 15% and in the end lower once avoidance sysytems legal or otherwise are removed and all companies pay.

        That assumes that a Government would actually reduce that tax with the higher income – sadly history shows the opposite and that goes for all parties including the Conservatives – view the overall tax burden for the reality.

        Online Companies should still be paying a Business rate. They may not have a physical premises but they are still utilising the services Councils and Taxpayers fund.
        The travel on roads that require maintenance, create waste that requires treating or landfill.
        After all one way of looking at it is that a Borough provides a captive audience for that along with road signs, post codes and so on.
        Online educators the same as those providing a premises.

        Remember tax does not and should not distinguish so state schools would also not be exempt.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    There is the argument that Private schools reduce the cost of educating that pupil to the state system. Therefore they indirectly contribute to the state in doing so.

    But perhaps removing the charitable status and the state paying the going rate direct to the school or as a rebate (as schools seemingly cannot be trusted to pass that reduction on) instead, with parents topping it up, Pernhaps that would be a fairer system? And still charging a reduced rate of VAT at 5% as Education is not a luxery but perhaps elite education is so a relavent VAT rate may be logical and appropriate.

    Scholarships can still be offered and that cost set against overall tax as a deductible, same for burseries.

    That would be a logical fairer system -but then that would not suit any political/ idealogical football.

  3. Sarah Jones doesn’t seem to be aware of what’s going on in her constituency. This is another example of her being behind the curve. If it weren’t for IC she’s be even more ignorant. She needs to get up to speed and wake up!

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