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.
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