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.
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 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.”
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.
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.