Leading headmaster Anthony Seldon has paid tribute to the Old Palace of John Whitgift School in Croydon, which has announced it is to close in 2025.
The Epsom College head tweeted that the Old Palace had “given outstanding education to girls for over 100 years”.
Sir Anthony, who taught at nearby Whitgift School in his early career, added: “My heart goes out to the girls and teachers, present and past. My late wife Joanna loved teaching there in the 1980s. So sad when a great school has to close.”
Christopher Houlding, chair of the John Whitgift Foundation which oversees the Old Palace, wrote in a statement announcing the closure plans that he was “desperately sorry” to bear the news.
As the school community has reeled from the closure news, it also emerged that a 15-year-old girl who was stabbed to death in Croydon on September 27 was a pupil at the Old Palace.
A statement from the school, reported by the BBC, said it was “deeply shocked” and that the victim was a “much-loved and valued friend and pupil”.
The school currently educates 600 girls across two sites and is one of the John Whitgift Foundation’s three schools, which also include Trinity and Whitgift Schools – both for boys.
The foundation is one of the biggest landowners in Croydon.
The Old Palace is planned to close in 2025, with some year groups (pre-school, reception, Year 7, Year 10 and Year 12) to close in August 2024.
The school, which opened in 1889, is housed in a Grade 1 listed building where Queen Elizabeth I once had a bedroom.
Since the announcement, an alumna of the school has launched a petition to try to keep it open, which as of today had garnered 2,624 signatures.
The petition, to Mr Houlding, said the school had been “a pillar of education for girls in our community for over 130 years”.
Local press reports that a campaign group of parents and former pupils has also been set up – Save Old Palace – to consider how they might challenge the Whitgift Foundation’s closure plans.
In his statement, Mr Houlding states that the school has “struggled financially for many years” as one of the reasons for the closure.
He also cites other factors such as the cost of living crisis, increased costs, a growth in expense for “necessary capital investment projects” and “anticipated demographic changes” which he claims have made it “impossible” to sustain the school beyond the short term.
He said: “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.
“However distressing this is for everyone involved, we believe it is the option which brings the most certainty and clarity to the situation, giving families up to two years’ notice so they can make other plans in as considered a way as possible.
“Our primary consideration is to ensure the impact on our students’ education is minimal and we will remain in close touch with parents over the coming weeks and months in order to do everything we can to support all those who make up our community.
“Existing close contact with other schools in the area means that a full and open discussion can be had with headteachers about availability of places at their schools.
“Meanwhile, we remain committed at Old Palace to providing a high-quality educational experience for our pupils until summer 2025.
“While I am desperately sorry to be the bearer of this news, I would nonetheless like to thank staff and students for all their commitment, support and achievements for our school over the years.”