Monday, 7 June 2010

Equal opportunities for all in SE11 - proposed Beaufoy Academy jeopardised?

Lambeth Labour believe in equal opportunities for all.  At least, that is Cllr Pete Robbins' view on local education.  Clearly, equal opps for all in education do not extend as far as equal opps for all citizens to participate in local democracy.  Perhaps that's not such a bad thing, since it's unclear whether the co-operative council movement would result in the further privatisation of services, as the council sought to further sub-contract works in an attempt to minimise costs.  Of course, there is a chance that the co-operative council idea might offer an opportunity for genuine democratic participation by local citizens.  But, at this rate, we'll never know.  Local politics, according to Lambeth Labour, should be left to the politicians, or, better still, the businesses that consult with Lambeth's corporate policy team.

I can't think of any political party that doesn't believe in the idea of equal opportunities for all.  The question, of course, is quite how one achieves that aim.  The Conservatives have attempted this in a small number of counties by retaining grammar schools.  A grammar school education offers a way to university, and beyond, for all those who could pass the 11+ exam (and, of course, could afford to live in the catchment area).  The argument against grammar schools is that they deplete the talent pool, leaving comprehensive schools to teach everybody else.  A more recent Labour policy to promote equal opportunities for all has seen an attempt to turn certain failing schools into "academies" with specialisms.  According to Wikipedia, the academy idea was sponsored by Tony Blair, all the way back in 2000.  Academies have traditionally been publicly funded (although, with a private commercial backer), but outside of Local Education Authority control.  And, of course, they've face the same accusations of selection as grammar schools.  Apparently, they're allowed to set their own admissions policies, although "most" academies follow local authority guidelines.  The Conservatives also like academies, and indeed, at the local Princes/Oval by-election hustings, the Conservative candidate, Michael Poole-Wilson enthusiastically backed the idea of third-party run schools.  Most recently, academy schools have received the backing of the Cons/Lib-Dem coalition, with the suggestion that schools should apply for Academy status, if they think they could benefit from greater independence.

Why is this of any relevance to SE11?  Of what possible import could academies have on our little part of London?  Sometimes it's useful to be able to take a little step back.  We'll go back, for the sake of argument, to the 23rd March 2010.  I'm sure it was around that date that Cllr McGlone was suggesting that the Beaufoy site might be used to establish a new Academy for 14-19 year olds.  The Council was supposed to be "exploring with potential sponsors an Academy-based model" for the Beaufoy that might even have been named the "Beaufoy Vocational Academy".  The proposed sponsor (Kunshapsskolan) run their schools in a manner that is "state-funded, free of charge and non-selective", but at the end of the day, they're still a company, and they'd still be a sponsor (and they don't escape the Academy model).  So why would Lambeth Labour call for schools not to opt out of local authority control, at the same time as looking to build an Academy (with private sponsorship) in their own backyard?  Has there been a change of heart, or did the talks with the sponsor fall through?

Surely, what's of importance to local tax-payers, parents and residents is that the Beaufoy site be put to use.  By all means, build an academy, a comprehensive, an adult-education centre or a learning based-facility, but why not see if Kids Company (or some other charity) could use the space whilst we wait?  I'm pretty sure they'd have some great ideas for it, and it would benefit the most vulnerable children in our neighbourhood by giving them the use of a beautiful building.  The former Lilian Baylis has meanwhile use, but I often wander past the car-park area of the Beaufoy and think it could be put to use very well as a couple of basketball/netball/tennis courts (at the very least).

Whilst we wait, I've installed a ticker at the top of the blog, which counts the length of time since the Beaufoy Institute has been put to any proper use.

Clarification:  Cllr Robbins has posted a long response, over at Onionbag, claiming that Lambeth-"key partner" Academies are different from the government's proposals that schools should seek Academy status in order to gain control over their spending.  I'm unclear about the difference since I thought that all Academies were (to some degree) privately funded, whether "key partners" with their local authorities or not.  All moves to build Academies are moves towards privatisation.

Further clarification: Cllr Steve Reed has said that academies no longer need private sponsorship (although, see above, as the Beaufoy looks to be going in this direction anyway).  If that's the case, I'm not entirely sure I see the Lambeth Labour objection to schools seeking Academy status, and choosing to go it alone, without the local authority.


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I and my Conservative colleagues are not blinded by ideology on the question of how best to utilise the Beaufoy Institute (a truly magnificent building). The key is that it is used soon. I see no reason why a school should necessarily operate within local authority control nor any problem with third party sponsorship (assuming that any proposal is legal).

I am glad that you have put the ticker up since the non-use of the Beaufoy is a terrible waste. Whilst everybody will surely be in favour of interim use, as suggested by Lurking, this should not cause the ticker to be removed!

Perhaps Lurker would consider a ticker for the Old Lilian Baylis site. This is another example of waste. In any reasonable analysis, the sports action zone can only be considered a very slight use of this asset.

M Poole-Wilson
Kennington Conservatives

SE11 Lurker said...

Ha! I'm not emerging from the closet as a Tory fan-boi any time soon, but your interest does seek to highlight the similarity of Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem policy on academies.

Like you, I would rather see the site used for /something/, but I'm not too sure about the current political enthusiasm for academies. I'd need to do some more reading to find out whether they'd offer local students the best education on offer. I'm very impressed by the achievements of Lilian Baylis, which I don't think is an academy, and my concern is that an academy might drain money from other schools in the area.

I have considered a ticker for the former Lilian Baylis site, except that a) it might be unfair, since it's currently in meanwhile use, and b) I'd need 2 tickers, and if I can't find 1 applet that will produce 2 results, I'll end up slowing down the load time for the site.

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