Kings Church
The school is currently based at Kings Church in Meadowcourt Road

A controversial free school which was refused permission to build on a sports ground in Lee is to be closed down by the government.

The International Academy of Greenwich, which had hoped to build a school for 765 pupils on the Bowring Sports Ground, off Eltham Road, will begin winding down in summer 2020 after the Department for Education withdrew support for it.

Inspectors from Ofsted panned the school after a recent inspection, stating that it “requires improvement”. They found a high number of pupil exclusions, poor behaviour and frequent changes of teaching staff.

Pupils are currently being taught in an office block in nearby Meadowcourt Road, which the school shares with the evangelical Kings Church.

They faced a longer stay in the block after Greenwich Council refused permission to build on the Bowring ground, saying there was no case for it to be built on Metropolitan Open Land.

Free schools are directly funded by the Government rather than local authorities, and the Big Education Trust, which runs the school, had hoped that pressure on school places would persuade Greenwich to let it build on the sports ground.

Both Greenwich and neighbouring Lewisham said they had no need for extra places, effectively ruling out any chance of the school being built.

Despite the school’s name, half of its catchment area took in Lewisham borough and it was just a few hundred metres away from another secondary school, Trinity Lewisham.

A host of residents’ groups also objected, pointing out the site for the proposed school was on a flood plain. 853 covered their concerns in October 2018.

Nigel Fletcher, a Conservative councillor for Eltham South ward, was one of the councillors who unanimously rejected the application in July. He said at the time: “I am saddened that we are in a position where what may be an excellent school is in a difficult position.

“There is a question as to how it was put together in a way that it was never going to be passed, relying on exceptional circumstances was always a big risk.”

The meeting ended in disarray with shouts of “you’re a disgrace” aimed at the cross-party group of councillors.

Bowring Sports Ground
The academy wanted to build on this site at Bowring Sports Ground

Schools Week, an education news website, reported that parents were told the news on Friday afternoon. Pupils in years 7, 8 and 9 will have to find new schools next summer, while those in year 10 will be able to stay and finish their GCSEs.

““We are absolutely devastated by the outcome of this prolonged process. Having invested hugely in developing this school, this closure decision is incredibly sad,” Liz Robinson, co-director of the trust, said.

“This has been an incredibly tough few months for our community. We have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to push the Department for Education to look at options for appealing [against] the Council’s Planning Committee’s decision or find us another site – both of which have been ultimately unsuccessful.

“If we can’t offer the highest of standards of facilities to meet the needs of our students, and deliver on our educational philosophy and promises, then it was right that we accepted the DfE’s decision to close IAG.”

Last year, 853 reported that £1.1m of taxpayers’ money had been spent on costs at the Kings Church site and plans for the Bowring Sports Ground, while the government had spent a further £3.2 million in funding the school’s revenue costs.

Schools Week, which broke the news of the school’s closure on Friday, reported last year that across England, the Department for Education had spent £115 million on free school projects which went on to fail.

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