Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Parents protest Lambeth Council decision to sell off of Wincott Street school site for housing

Two days ago I received a press-release stating that local parents would protest on the 5th April at the Shelley School Site on Wincott Street about Lambeth Council's decision to sell the site.  The schools issue is quite complex in Lambeth.  Essentially, Lambeth maintain that in the north of the borough (which includes Kennington, Oval and Vauxhall), there is no shortage of school places.  Whilst I imagine that's technically correct, the problem for local parents is that they perceive that the quality of schooling on offer in the north of the Borough is not up to scratch.  Whilst Archbishop Sumner School and Walnut Tree Walk have Ofsted ratings of Excellent and Good, some of the other local primary schools in the area have only just emerged from special measures.  (I've updated my post on the most recent Ofsted reports for SE11 schools).  To be fair, it must now be maintained that all local schools are rated "Good" or above except for Charlotte Sharman and Henry Fawcett, which are both judged Satisfactory.  But "Excellent" is excellent, and Kennington parents are presumably incredibly aspiring.

Archbishop Sumner and Walnut Tree Walk are both "one form entry" schools, and have a total of 60 places each year between them.  Govenors at Archbishop Sumner are hence carrying out a feasibility study on extending their premises and making Archbishop Sumner a two form entry school in order to meet "demand" for places.  Lambeth Council of course maintain that there is no pressure on places because there is plenty of room at other schools.  Unfortunately, (according to the press release I received, and whose roots I've failed to trace), that means Lambeth are apparently unwilling to wait for the outcome of the fesaibility study and have put the Shelley Site up for sale.  Parents received notification about whether their children received school places on April 5th and protested at the Wincott Street site on the same day.  Many parents think that there is both demand for an expanded Archbishop Sumner School and the building in which to expand into.  It should be noted though that a 2006 Lambeth site review concluded, "The main block is brick built and of single storey construction, dating back to 1972. There are significant condition issues with the external fabric, internal electrical and mechanical systems."

Cllr Pete Robbins responded on the SE11 Action Team blog by acknowledging the frustration of parents whose children missed out on places at Archbishop Sumner, but noted "However, other good primary schools in North Lambeth are not oversubscribed and have places to offer."  Cllr Robbins argues that pressure for school places in the south of the borough is high due to an "explosion" of pupil numbers in Norwood and Streatham and that assets must be sold to fund extra capacity in the south of the borough.

There are a number of sites that the Council plans to sell (the Shelley site, the Beaufoy Institute, the parts of the former Lilian Baylis not being used for Sports Action Zone etc.) that could be used for primary education were there a will, but without capital funds (most of those buildings are in a bad state of repair) and the agreement of Lambeth council, nothing is likely to happen.  Of course, if local anger were particularly focused, parents might attempt to start up a local free school, but it would probably still need council backing.

The issue of quality of education is fraught in Lambeth.  Such questions always are, because everybody wants the best for their children.  However, it's not clear that income from the sale of the Shelley site would directly fund schools in the south of the borough (why not sell off the former Lilian Baylis first?) and consequently, the sale of the Shelley site need not be considered a "done deal" if parents were to campaign hard enough.  Alternatively, of course, parents could put their energy into helping improve the "Satisfactory" schools in the area.

However, one question remains; do the Princes Ward Councillors (Steve Morgan, Mark Harrison and Lorna Campbell) support Pete Robbins and the Labour administration's line that money from the sale of assets in north Lambeth should fund south Lambeth, or do they support Princes ward residents who want to see a local school expanded?  This is an important question.  Residents vote for councillors who will support them and argue their case before the Council, rather than simply acceding to a party line.  If the Princes Ward Councillors are merely supporting the party line, then many local parents will find that their views are not adequately represented.


Cllr Mark Harrison said...

On the whole this an excellent and balanced assessment of the issue. The problem in North Lambeth is not that there is a shortage of places, it is that some parents are unwilling to take up some of the places on offer.

Our position is that we understand that, and we respect parents' right to choose what's best for their children. However, in North Lambeth the Council's priority has to be driving up standards in existing schools, not expanding outstanding schools in an area where there is a surplus of places. In short, we want all schools to be outstanding, not expand the ones which are already.

The Council has an excellent record of intervening in schools to drive up standards. After Vauxhall Primary was placed into special measures the school was federated with outstanding Wyvil School, and in the follow up inspection it was rated good with excellent prospects for improvement. At Henry Fawcett the leadership team and the governing body were replaced, and at the follow up inspection the school was rated satisfactory. We know it had made huges strides since and is on it's way to being good and even outstanding.

Prince's councillors are fully supportive of Pete Robbins and the Council on this because the position is right. We agreed the statement and signed it. This isn't about taking a party line, or setting the south of the borough against the north; it's about doing what's best for all of Lambeth's children. That is ensuring we can provide places in Lambeth schools for all children who want one, and pushing our schools to even greater levels of success than they have already achieved. Local representation is not about unquestioningly taking the side of every local campaign group - it's about listening to the arguments and coming to a view about what's best for our area as a whole. We can't personally represent every view in the ward, because different people in the ward have different, and often contradictory views.

Finally the issue of asset sales in bigger than just finding funds to expand schools in Norwood. the Council has a capital programme which includes all of the priorities for the borough - school expansion, repairing the worst pavements and roads, improving leisure facilities etc. Every spare asset needs to be sold to fund this programme - it's the only way the capital programme can be realised. Those assets include the Shelley site, the under-used half of the Old Lilian Baylis site, and the Beaufoy Institute. Again, we support these sales because it's the right thing to do for SE11 and for Lambeth as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Why sell the old Lilian Baylis site when it is being used for FREE community activities. With the right management this valuable community hub smack bang in the centre of a huge housing estate could be a wonderful asset to Lambeth. Also why sell the part of it that is being used for community and not the part which is allowing people to live in relative squalor (decent homes?) and paying a security company for the privilege.
Selling is a short term gain. What will be built? More houses, this will equal more kids which need more school places as the only people that can afford these new houses want the 'outstanding' school places.

The answer is not to spend spend spend, the answer is for parents to become involved in their children's schools, help make them good and outstanding. Sit down with your children and read with them, push up the schools grades from the inside. There are plenty of school places in Lambeth. They are not just there for free childcare, they need support from parents and carers.

I think that with the austerity to come (you 'aint seen nothing yet) the local communities need to work together and put something back. The Law of Attraction works!

Don't sell off community buildings and valuable old buildings for short term, bumping up of the coffers, Lets use these assets to work our 'Big Society'.

North Lambeth has pockets of strong growing communities, don't squash them, listen to them, they want what's best for the long term too.

Finally, the council should take a look at where it's money is going. Spending obscene amounts of money on consultants, agency staff and unnecessary projects that end up in the bin equally match what would be got from selling off our 'assets'.

Please look long term!

Cllr Mark Harrison said...

Re Lilian Baylis - the half of the site being used for sports activities has been given to the Black Prince Trust so those activities can continue and expand.

The other half of the site has some great community projects operating, mostly on the ground floor. But the site is huge and has big potential for redevelopment and intensification. Redevelopment doesn't necessarily mean we have lose the community projects. Nothing's been decided about how we go about redeveloping, but it's right that Lambeth Council gets a capital receipt for what is a valuable site, and it's right that we also get some much-needed new housing on the site.

The Council has sat on some assets that we don't need for years and years in some cases, on the offchance that a suitable community use comes along. Now, at a time when our capital funding has been slashed and we desperately need money for our capital programme, is definitely the time to dispose of these assets and raise some money.

Anonymous said...

The council sat on The Beaufoy on the offchance that a suitable community use came along but would not entertain using the outside as a growing space for the surrounding community. If this were allowed then more community groups would have come along and used the building.

Lets hope that the community groups at OLB are allowed to stay, remember that they do not have the capital required to pay huge rents though.

magento themes said...

Selling of school site for housing is not fair.Although there is shaortage of space.But for that we cant compromise with the children. Now a days they are not getting space to play.Only school ground is the only place for them.If it will be used for housing where they will play?

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