The International Academy of Greenwich (IAG), a free school opened in September 2016, has announced its closure.
The school has been at the centre of a planning row since before it opened in temporary accommodation on the first floor of a church.
In July, IAG was judged to require improvement. In the same month, Greenwich planners refused permission for the school’s permanent buildings on the Bowring Sports field.
The Chair said it seemed the DfE had presumed IAG’s permanent school would be built at Bowring despite planning permission not having been obtained.
The DfE appeared so confident that planning permission was merely a formality that it exchanged contracts to purchase the site in December 2015. In a letter to local MP Clive Efford, schools minister Nick Gibb confirmed that the Education and Skills Funding Agency had received a valuation in August 2015. The purchase would be completed when planning permission was given.
Following its decision to close the school, the DfE will presumably have to pay compensation for not completing the purchase. This adds to the amount already spent, including temporary building costs, feasibility plans and legal fees, on a free school which had been identified as a high risk* to two nearby schools before the school opened: Haberdashers' Aske's Knights Academy and Shooters Hill Post-16 campus.
Liz Robinson, co-CEO of the Big Education Trust (BET) which took over IAG in September 2018 said the trust was ‘devastated’ by the DfE’s decision. It had ‘invested hugely in developing this school’.
This raises the question whether BET had been made fully aware of problems facing IAG before being persuaded to take over the school and commit money towards its development.
BET’s most recent accounts** show BET’s finances were under pressure following its takeover of IAG. The free school had its stay in temporary accommodation extended after BET formerly took it over. IAG reduced its pupil admission number which would in turn reduce its income. The accounts say the expected ‘significant structural deficits’ at IAG would result in BET ‘being unable to manage the school within the parameters agreed’. The trust was discussing financial support with the DfE which had recognised the situation was beyond BET’s control.
This raises a further question about whether the DfE exercised due diligence in allowing a single-academy trust, formerly School 21, to take over IAG in such adverse circumstances.
IAG pupils in years seven, eight and nine will leave at the end of this academic year. They will need to find places in other schools. Pupils in year ten, now half-way through their GCSE preparation, will be given the opportunity to complete their GCSEs at the school. Responsibility for this debacle rests squarely with the DfE.
**Year ending 31 August 2018, available from Companies House