IN FOCUS: Lambeth College, a ‘Catholic’ free school, and a whole lot of fuss

Part of the Brixton Hill campus of Lambeth College is to be redeveloped as a catholic free school
Part of the Brixton Hill campus of Lambeth College is to be redeveloped as a catholic free school



By Katie Lathan, reporter

The sale of Lambeth College’s Brixton Hill campus has been the subject of much controversy over the past few months, with protests occurring frequently outside the college’s various centres across south London.

Lambeth College’s overall budget is to be cut by £2.8 million in 2014/2015 and the college was sold to the Department for Education (DfE) for £18 million.

Mark Silverman, principal and chief executive of the college, said: “The sale of the site effectively ensures that we can have a presence in Brixton for many years to come and that the long-term future of Lambeth College as a whole is more assured.”

While the college will retain some educational facilities on the site, the Brixton campus will lose 4000 sq ft.

Union members outside Lambeth College in Brixton during a protest over Government cuts. Picture from Lambeth Save Our Services
Union members outside Lambeth College in Brixton during a protest over Government cuts. Picture from Lambeth Save Our Services

Opposition to the closing of the college site has arisen from local residents, anti-cuts groups, students and parents at the college. In response to Mr Silverman’s statement, Lee Jasper, co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts (BARAC), said: “Why should we believe a college that is selling out for £18 million, when we’ve got a perfectly good facility here?

“Let’s use our money, the taxpayers’ money, to fund this college to stay open, and give young people in this borough an opportunity and a pathway out of alienation and unemployment into education and hopefully a positive career.”

However, it’s not just the sale of the site which has faced opposition, but what will replace the college. A ‘catholic-ethos’ free school, Trinity Academy, acquired the site from the DfE, and is planning to open in September.

Trinity Academy’s application and interview assessment phase took place between January – May 2013 and, following the DfE’s seal of approval, the Brixton Hill site was mentioned. A six-week statutory consultation process then began in January this year, which was managed by an outside contractor on the school’s behalf.

Dennis Sewell, chair of governers, said the school places are needed.
Dennis Sewell, chair of governers, said the school places are needed.

Dennis Sewell, chair of governors of Trinity Academy, said: “Trinity Academy is a parent-promoted initiative aiming to provide what parents say they want and need to improve and enrich education provision in the area.

“During the application stage, we collected written evidence of demand from the parents of more than 500 local children currently of primary school age. We handed out thousands of leaflets and held more than a dozen public meetings.”

Mr Sewell added that there had not been “a huge amount of contact with councillors, nor much cause to do so”, as free schools do not come under the jurisdiction of local authorities.

According to Mr Sewell, 42 per cent of Lambeth families look outside the borough for their first choice schools. He said: “It’s safe to say that somewhere between a third and half of Lambeth families will end up sending their child to a school that isn’t the one they really want.”

Rachel Heywood with Chuka Umunna demonstrating her love for Brixton
Cllr Rachel Heywood

Opposition to Trinity Academy has come from all directions. Rachel Heywood, Lambeth cabinet member for families, said: “We didn’t know anything about Trinity Academy until we were informed that it had been given permission to open by the DfE, and had we been consulted, we would have said that we did not need another secondary school in Brixton.”

Sara Tomlinson, branch secretary of Lambeth National Union of Teachers, said: “The plan to put a free school here is very divisive: you put a school here that will compete with a school next door, and children will suffer because their education will be diminished.”

There are already several Catholic schools in the area, including Bishop Thomas Grant and La Retraite. The Roman Catholic diocese has not offered its support to Trinity Academy.

Cllr Heywood did, however, express support for a special free school, The Vanguard School, which was scheduled to open in the borough in September 2014.

The school, established by the National Autistic Society (NAS), won funding in May 2013 and would specialise in the education of 11-19-year-olds with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The proposal took 18 months to put together, and legally required a letter of support from the borough.

The Vanguard currently has neither a temporary nor permanent site, and there are no other autism-specific special schools in the borough.

The current buildings on the site are dated and unloved
The current buildings on the site are dated and unloved

In Lambeth, 75 per cent of children with profound ASD are educated out-of-borough. Figures from January showed that over 400 children with special educational needs are educated outside of the borough, with transport costs amounting to up to £1,117,286.93 per annum.

Fleur Bothwick, director of the NAS Academies Trust, said: “Lambeth couldn’t be more supportive, but it seems that the Education Funding Agency can only afford land that does not have a residential value, because we are in London and premiums are so high.

“We’re not saying it’ll never happen, and I keep thinking that someone is going to come up with something, but we haven’t walked away. The most damaging thing would be to take the hope away from families by giving up.”

Regardless of the protests and opposition, it appears that the sale of the Brixton Hill college campus has now passed the point of return, and the impact of Trinity Academy remains to be seen. For better or worse, it seems that education in Brixton will see big changes from September.


Related: Lambeth council spends more that £1M per year sending children to special schools OUTSIDE the borough



  1. Lambeth Council don’t seem to have tried very hard to find Vanguard a home. They had a building at 126 Atkins Road previously used for SLAM that would have done nicely – the autism school only needs space for 70 to 80. Instead they sold it.

  2. Labour Cllr Rachel Heywood’s son attends £30k a year independent secondary school Sherborne as a boarder. Clearly she did not have faith in Lambeth’s state secondary schools.

    Typical Labour politician – trying to stop hardworking families from getting a decent education for their children in the state sector when she herself has bought out of it.

    This blog should be asking hard questions of ALL those involved, rather than just reporting their soundbites.

    As for Lee Jasper, I refer people to the wikipedia entry in respect of him:

  3. Nick are you referring to Evelyn Grace Academy which is graded good by Ofsted and is on Shakespeare Road ? They also achieved 79% pass rate in Maths.
    Not bad for an under subscribed school with a higher than average of pupils from an ethnic minority, have English as an additional language, higher than national average special needs and disability and higher than national average pupils supported by pupil premium.

  4. What’s this alleged “school next door” to the LC site that the new free school will compete with? Do they mean the one over by Loughborough Junction, which is undersubscribed because Ofsted considers it “not good enough”?

  5. Why no mention of the university technical college that will be sharing the building with Lambeth College and the free school? This will be providing the quality vocational training that will equip kids for decent jobs in health science that pay more than basic wage.I think this college-technical college-secondary school partnership deal could be the right way to go.

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