Parents at Croydon school feel ‘hung out to dry’ by recent closure announcement

The Old Palace of John Whitgift School has a history arching back 130 years
The Old Palace of John Whitgift School has a history arching back 130 years

Parents of children at Croydon’s Old Palace School have expressed anger and frustration it was announced last week that the school would close in 2025.

The independent girls school, owned by the John Whitgift Foundation, blamed its closure on persistent financial difficulties, owing in part to the foundation’s controversial investments into the Whitgift Centre and Westfield plan.

While these financial issues were no secret to parents, they did express concern for the school’s lack of consultation and why they proceeded with a new intake of students before making this announcement.

The parents also asked why the school, which charges up fees as high as £19,350 per pupil, has suffered this fate when the foundation’s two other schools have fared better since lockdown.

At the school gates last Friday, one parent with a child in year seven told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “One of the reasons for us choosing the school was just the way that all the girls looked really happy.

"The school had a warm and nurturing feel to it, and we didn’t get this in the other schools. It’s a good girls’ school, and there are not so many good girls’ schools.”

“My child is quite a quiet child, so we also wanted somewhere small for her, and this just seemed perfect.

"She’s had two weeks and it’s been amazing. The transition in her is amazing. Then to get this message from the school is heartbreaking, a lot of parents made sacrifices to get their kids here.

“These things don’t happen overnight, so why take new students in and why not have a phase out plan.

"They have known. It’s not fair. Year seven is a prime time for adjustment. It is the whole thing of inequality for me, why should we have to fight for girls education when the boys’ schools have remained open.

“The foundation has three schools, just like the Dulwich Foundation (Central Foundation Schools of London) has their three schools.

"If Dulwich just one day decided to close James Allen’s Girls school, what would happen. Why do they think they can do that here.”

Other parents pointed to the seeming lack of consultation given prior to the announcement.

There were particular complaints about the apparent lack of support offered to parents regarding finding a new school for their child, in the words of one parent, ‘year seven and eights and their parents have been hung out to dry.’

She added, “There was no consultation at all, and now they’ll have to pick up sticks and leave halfway through their schooling. It’s such an important time in their growing up, and this uncertainty will not help at all.

“Some schools have gone co-ed to survive, but there was no consultation to change it to co-ed to help it survive.

"If they came round to us and said this is what we have to do to survive, then we would have to support it.”

One parent was keen to point out that the announced closure will disproportionately affect parents and children in the lower years, who will have to transfer to another school halfway through their secondary education.

Parents of children in years 12 and 13 will not be affected by the announced closure.

That parent told the LDRS: “We are the parents of the last children there, because they are in year 12. It doesn’t affect us much. The only thing I will say to the parents is don’t panic.

"The foundation have given you everything you need. Go and find a school, they will help you to make the transition. If you had a scholarship, they will help you. If you have a bursary, they will help you.

“Kids here feel like they are a family, and I know a lot that have left and returned because they love the school so much.

"The reason for closure could be anything, the buildings are very old, the lease may have expired. We don’t know, but I do know the foundation have been struggling with their schools and investments in the town centre.”

She joked: “We love the school though, and when it closes we will have a party to celebrate it.”

Students were informed of the changes at an official school assembly on Friday afternoon.

Upon breaking up for the weekend, one student told the LDRS: “The head said that teachers are looking for new jobs.

"I feel it’s quite biased though because Whitgift and Trinity (the foundation’s other schools) are also having problems as well. It’s almost like if they kick us out, they have less to work with.”

When approached for comment, the foundation said: “The school recognises this is a distressing and stressful time and is entirely focused on giving parents and pupils all the support they need.

"The head has already been in touch with the heads of neighbouring schools to discuss options, has responded personally to hundreds of emails from parents with advice, and is in direct communication with many parents to answer their questions. The school has pledged to update parents regularly and will be sending further information again very soon.

“The foundation has already announced it will continue to offer financial support to those pupils who currently have bursaries and scholarships, and has pledged to make further financial assistance available in terms of grants for other pupils for instance to cover application fees.”

“In terms of the timing, the final decision on the intention to close was only taken last week, so it would not have been possible to communicate it any sooner. There is no good time to deliver news of this nature, but making the announcement now and with up to two years’ notice will give parents the maximum possible time to find alternative schools (applications at other schools are still open for next year’s intake).”