Virus crisis forces stars’ stage school to bow out

Historic theatre and performing arts academy's junior school set to close, due to effects of outbreak

Friday, 8th May 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Italia conti new 2

Italia Conti Academy’s junior school is facing closure next year

STUDENTS at the world’s oldest theatre training academy have been told their junior school will close next year as the coronavirus lockdown has made its position “untenable”.

The Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, in Goswell Road, Barbican, was founded in 1911 and offers vocational and academic education for children aged 11 to 18 through to diploma and degree-level courses. Its junior school serves children aged 10 to 16, and currently has 95 pupils and six academic teachers.

It is understood the junior school, which relies heavily on private tuition fees to fund its extensive scholarship programme, would need to raise around £3million to stay open.

Principal Samantha Newton broke the news of the closure to parents in an email – seen by the Tribune – at the end of last week.

She wrote: “Following an extensive and thorough internal review, it is with regret that we have had to take the heartbreaking decision to close the Junior School at the Italia Conti Academy at the end of July 2021.

“As I am sure you can appreciate, this has been an incredibly difficult decision to make and one we have considered long and hard. However, as the school is heavily reliant on the timely receipt of privately funded tuition fees, our limited capacity to function in the conventional way has placed an intolerable strain on our finances.

Pixie Lott and Martine McCutcheon

“Please be assured that we have explored all options to avoid this outcome with great urgency, but as a not-for-profit organisation that is entirely reliant upon fee-paying students, we were sadly left with no realistic alternative.”

Parents, especially those of children expected to sit their GCSEs in 2021, have been offered support to find a new school, with concerns over the disruption a move in the middle of their exam preparation would cause.

Thousands of school parents and alumni have signed a petition, and have embarked on a fundraising campaign to keep the school open.

Jenny Choudhury, whose 14-year-old daughter Emily started at the junior school in September, helped start a petition and fundraising page to save the school with nearly 4,000 signatures collected so far.

She said parents and children had been left “heartbroken”, adding: “A lot of children on scholarships there will have to go to state school.

“The fees at other private theatre arts academies will be too high for many parents. Some of these children will have been at Italia Conti since they were 11, and others will be facing moving schools in their GCSE year.

“The school does so much to introduce children from all backgrounds to the arts through its scholarships. It’s heartbreaking to think it will close.

“We want the government to recognise the value of schools like this, and we want them to help. But we’re also fundraising ourselves. If we can’t raise enough the money will be split between parents of scholarship children to help with tuition fee costs at a new school, and any surplus will be given to the Southwark Playhouse Charity.”

Lorraine Eames told the Tribune her daughter Ellie would never have been able to go to Italia Conti without their scholarship scheme.

She added: “The school has nurtured and supported my child, and helped her secure professional work such as a part in Billy Elliot and Matilda The Musical, film work with Will Ferrell and O2 performances with Justin Bieber.

“With the closure, Ellie will not be able to continue with her passion in performing arts. To have this amazing opportunity taken from her has left us all devastated. It is not just a school, it really is a family unit.”

Stars who have trained at the academy include Noel Coward, Pixie Lott, Martine McCutcheon, Louise Redknapp and Tracey Ullman.

The Italia Conti Academy was contacted by the Tribune for comment, but declined until further meetings with directors had concluded.

The academy will continue to offer its diploma and degree programmes.


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