BY GRAINNE CUFFE
A free school was granted more than £6 million in funding without having a permanent home secured – and will now have to close next year.
International Academy of Greenwich (IAG) in Lee was forced to announce its closure last month after Greenwich council refused planning permission for its redevelopment in July.
IAG planned to build a 765-pupil school on Bowring Sports Ground but was unanimously blocked by councillors over its proposed use of Metropolitan Open Land, which is protected from development unless there are special circumstances.
A need for school places would have qualified but council planners said the school “failed to provide a convincing case” that it existed.
Parents based in Greenwich and Lewisham, who are deeply concerned about their children’s future, say they were “completely misled” by the school, which they say had told them the redevelopment would go ahead.
A spokesman for IAG said it was “saddened if anyone feels misled” and that “while we passed on the DfE’s very strong assurances that they felt planning would be granted, and based on this we believed that this would be the case, we cannot recall ever saying that it was categorically secured.”
IAG sent out an email at the end of November informing parents “with great sadness” that the Department for Education had decided to close the school for Year 7, 8 and 9 at the end of this academic year.
Many pupils still do not have a place in other schools, and will not be allocated one until early next year.
A series of Freedom of Information requests from a resident show that the school, which opened in 2016, has been given at least £6.3 million since 2012.
Planning related costs are not included in this figure and only rent between 2018 and 2020 is included.
The Department for Education granted the Greenwich Academy Trust – which ran the school until last year – nearly £500,000 in grants between 2012 and 2015 before IAG opened.
The school’s revenue costs up to September 2018 totalled £3,249,846, while refurbishing the temporary site came to £1,161,069.
Between September 2018 and August 2020, £789,338 will have been paid for renting the temporary site.
The DfE also paid a 10 per cent deposit – £400,000 – to secure the Bowring site it planned to use for redevelopment.
It said the DfE could not secure “another viable option” but that students in Year 10 would be allowed stay at the school to complete their GCSEs.
The school had been given a ‘requires improvement’ rating by Ofsted.
Louise, a parent whose son managed to get a place elsewhere on his first day, said the figures were “shocking”.
She said: “I still do not understand why anyone would make this kind of financial investment on such a risky project.
Free schools should not be allowed to open without a full and publicly available impact assessment and, in the case of new buildings, confirmation of planning permission.”
Phillip Dunkel, whose son remains at the school in Year 10, said IAG misled parents that planning permission had been granted.
He said: “They told us at the time that planning permission was already in order – that was quite clearly untrue.
“In the first year it became clear that it had yet to be given. But they said if the council declined to give permission, the DfE had made a commitment to appeal and get it through on the second try.”
Julia Baker, whose son is still at the school in Year 8, said: “I am disgusted that the powers that be could allow the process to get as far as it has.
“We had been told that planning permission was certain to be granted and had numerous meetings to be shown the architects’ plans.
“How could this be three years in the planning – presumably with millions of pounds wasted – and most importantly the education of several hundreds of school children in the balance.”
Mrs Baker, whose family live in Lewisham, said they were “very concerned” about the future of her son’s education and that his secondary school experience “has been a disaster from the start”.
She said: “I would sincerely love to know where this so-called surplus of places are in the borough.
The DfE and Greenwich Council said they could not comment during the run-up to the general election.