Tag Archives: Lambeth College

Question Time: The Future of Lambeth College

IMG_1878 top pic

A panel of white men did their best at this evening’s Question Time organised by MP Chuka Umuna to defend the decision to redevelop Lambeth College’s Brixton Hill site to include Trinity Academy and University Technical College.

Only 30 percent of the site will remain for Lambeth College.

"Nothing is Set in Stone" on Lambeth College Plans for Brixton Hill

Judging from the audience’s hostile reaction, they failed fairly completely and only dug themselves deeper into failure as the evening progressed.

Near the end, the harassed architect did in fact say under pressure that nothing is set in stone until the actual plans are officially submitted to planning in the summer. I don’t think anyone there really believed him, but can Brixton residents hold him to his word?

The general feeling from the audience was that they were deeply suspicious of everyone on the panel, and opposed almost everything about this development.

"Nothing is Set in Stone" on Lambeth College Plans for Brixton Hill

From the architect and contractor, that they had only been on the project for three weeks and were simply working within a remit settled by the last lot of men in suits consulting at us.

Everything has already been approved. They are simply there to design and build what will best provide for the needs of the three future users of the site.

From our Labour representatives, that it is all up to planning now and can only be questioned or contested on that basis. They can’t sit on or influence the planning committee who will make the final decisions.

As one of the local residents who had participated in the first round of ‘consultation’ on this plan, submitted written comments, written to Chuka Umuna about my feelings, and yet never received any updates or notifications of further meetings (including this one), I could understand the anger and frustration in the room.

Chuka Umunna to hold a People's Question Time over Lambeth College's Brixton Hill site, 4th March

On the panel:

Malcolm Dodds – Senior Advisor for the Baker Dearing Educational Trust that exists to promote and support new University Technical Colleges (This trust was founded by Lord Baker and Lord Dearing to facilitates a key Tory policy, probably all we need to know though I’m sure there’s more to look into here — there’s more on the UTC model, along with Academies and earlier protests here).

Dennis Sewell – Chair of Governors of Trinity Academy (A modern-day missionary to Lambeth’s heathen shores, he wrote this in the Spectator in December 2011: “At the height of empire, Britain used to send missionaries out to Africa and Asia to instruct the natives in personal hygiene, instil good table manners and preach the gospel. The occasional unlucky one found himself in a cannibal’s pot for his trouble; but mostly they won out, establishing themselves as the kindly, civilising arm of imperialism, founding schools and clinics, and converting the heathen. Back home, the public was jolly proud of them. British missionaries were both an expression and a source of Britain’s muscular national self-assurance.”)

Cllr Martin Tiedemann – One of our ward councillors, you might know him

Jude Harris – Associate Director of Justico & Wilds and lead architect

Mark Silverman – Principal of Lambeth College

Daniel Trigg – Senior Project Manager at Mott MacDonald, the contractors on the project.

Mandy Brown – UCU branch Secretary at Lambeth College. She found out about the panel and the list of men on it who are all in full support of the development and asked why there was no trade union representation from the college. She was then invited to join by Chuka’s office. She showed up in her Save Cressingham Gardens T-shirt, which was a nice gesture.

Her concerns were the following, and they seem to sum up why most oppose this development plan in its entirety:

  • Lack of consultation: staff, students and residents were not consulted before the development was agreed, only presented with plans
  • Loss of provision of needed services — she was confused about the constant use of the word ‘underutilisation’ of the facilities when there are 3000 people on the waiting list for ESOL class and not enough space for them
  • Negative equality impact on the community — a majority of students go there for special provisions for the disabled or ESOL and there continues to be a huge need for both, especially as other places like Croyden have cut back ESOL and their students are coming to Brixton.
  • The issue of the free school — £18 million spent to bring this academy to Brixton though opposed by local community, not supported by the Catholic diocese, and not needed
  • This is part of a Brixton-wide dispossession of the community, from the loss of housing like in Cressingham Gardens, to local businesses through the redevelopment of the arches, now losing the resources offered by Lambeth College

She got a solid round of applause for this, the first to be heard.

The questions raised a lot of practical issues. How many users will there be on site? Their estimates are 420 full-time-equivalents at Lambeth College, 600 students at the University Technical College, 840 students at Trinity Academy. Further questions clarified this could be as many as 3000 a day as most Lambeth College students are there part time.

Questions were raised about the fate of disabled students, who Lambeth College has historically made a tremendous effort to serve. Mark Silverman assured everyone they would not be forgotten.

IMG_1882 Daniel Trigg (left) and Mark Silverman (centre)

Of course, he went on, the government has made another round of cuts, and Chuka mentioned that apparently though not yet announced, the projected figures for the latest coalition government budget will put the viability of a number of adult colleges at risk. That might have been the worst news of the evening.

A number of comments and questions targeted Trinity Academy, no one seemed happy with its presence. One set of questions dealt with its viability under a new government, others mentioned how they are shown to be socially divisive, ineffective and sometimes harmful, they don’t have the same requirements to provide trained teachers.

Others questioned the fact that a school with a Catholic ‘ethos’ should be receiving public funding, even when not supported by the Catholic Diocese itself — and they wanted some clarification around that. Sara Tomlinson of the NUT echoed that free schools have been a failed experiment and only last week another closed down.

Chuka was asked what Labour meant to do about them. Very politically he responded that while he had nothing against the staff or students, their opening would not be supported under Labour, and he supports a rationale that puts schools where they are actually needed.

Trinity Academy is not needed. I’m not sure Cllr Tiedmann agreed with him, but his support of Catholic schools and education in general was a little muddled.

IMG_1884 MP Chuka Umuna and Cllr Martin Tiedemann

Unjum Mirza (TUSC candidate for Streatham) declared Labour spineless and called out Dennis Sewell’s comments in the Spectator and asked whether a racist bigot should be running a school in Brixton — now that sent a ripple through the audience.

IMG_1886 Dennis Sewell (standing) and Malcom Dodds

Question Time was running late, so a last rush of questions was taken — mostly along the lines of ‘what do you mean you’re going to have three schools all in that small space?’ and ‘there has been no real consultation’ and ‘how can we have any kind of real say in what happens with this?’.

At hearing there might be a building of 5 to 6 stories on the site pandemonium broke loose.

The panel were asked about their strategies for racial equality — not just in the construction but in their teaching and learning models and how they work with the BME community.

The usual platitudes were produced, but in defending the grand aims of Trinity Academy Sewell made the mistake of saying that that there was too much social and ethnic segregation in local schools, and that set pandemonium off once again. It really was a great crowd who deserved better.

An unfortunate comment about the Academy not having enough White British students and it was really all over for him.

The next round of ‘consultations’ should take place at the end of the month, where Justico & Wilds and Mott Macdonald will present a range of actual plans (will they be the ones already shown parents of children at Trinity Academy?

We shall see.

There is as yet not date or website, but we should expect one.

Previously posted on Brixton Buzz. Discuss this on the urban75 forums.


Lambeth College Open Forum, 19 November 2014

Held on Wednesday and announced in the Brixton Blog, it was what I should have been expecting. I thought it might have been more like a meeting, but was actually a small room with about six professionally done schematics and some artists renderings of what the new buildings as a whole might look like hanging on the wall. There were smiling white men in suits, very nice and friendly and anxious to answer any questions we might have. While I was there they outnumbered the community members present.

Lambeth College is almost entirely gone.

I knew that was what they were planning — in spite of our protest’s earlier  ‘victory’ in saving the site for education rather than development as luxury flats, in spite of assurances that Lambeth College is staying in Brixton. Perhaps being bought by the Department of Education was the worst possible outcome given the Tories’ ideological onslaught against public education. Lambeth College was here reduced to a small yellow rectangle engulfed by Trinity Academy and the South Bank University Technical College (SB UTC), neither of which we need here though our other needs are very great. While many people there had been informed through leaflets distributed among those living immediately next door and were very concerned about the height of the new building and the construction (and rightfully so), my own concern as a slightly more distant neighbor was primarily the new use for the land.

So first the issues with Trinity Academy. There is of course a string of hard and repulsive facts about academies in general: academies are failing their students and providing inadequate education, they have been shown corrupt in their dealings with Ofstead (and buying designer tea sets), aren’t hiring qualified personnel, and are being fought tooth and nail by local parent groups along with students and teachers.  There has been some brilliant research done on who the politicians are who are pushing academies, and their links to the people who are profiting off of them here, and an array of well-researched briefings to be found here, collected by the Anti Academies Alliance. All in all they seem like one giant land and profit grab by people trying to make money off our children, while also taking over public resources.

Trinity Academy though? Even if you’re not involved in this longer and broader political struggle, you’ve probably heard about how few students it has, and how insanely over-subsidised it is. The Independent investigated and found only 17 pupils studying on the premises given them by the Tory government at a cost of £18 million pounds. This when:

Imogen Walker, deputy leader of Lambeth Council, said: “We want every child in Lambeth to have the best education possible and a near-empty free school in an area that already has adequate provision will not help that aim in any way.”

The borough estimates it already has 226 spare places in its schools.

An insult really, to a borough reeling from budget cuts and the ongoing slashing of budgets for all teachers and youth workers across the borough, with shortfalls being made good by the eviction of long-term residents in so-called shortlife housing so their artisanal Clapham homes can be flogged off in a process of social cleansing.

The artist’s drawings of the new site show only Trinity Academy, a new four-story building with the giant logo highly visible along the side of it. I was a little sick. In them all the greenery now in the frontage of the school is also gone, the trees cut down, so the building comes right up to the pavement.

2014.11.22 big picture
But talking later with some friends, we realised that equally terrible is the proposed UTC block and their technical programme for teenagers. They write ‘The UTC will equip students with the necessary technical and employability skills sought after by employers.’ That sounds all right, because in this climate of economic recession everyone is worried about their kids being able to find work. This seems to be what they are counting on. I’m so wary. Especially reading this:

The UTC is government funded and was introduced as part of the Academy Programme. The UTC is free to attend
and is independent from local Authority control.

They are sponsored by a University, but the staff are not required to have the same level of expertise or training, and several UTCs can be run by the same board of directors. Essentially it’s the flawed academy model with lower standards and less public oversight (or any oversight at all).

They are offering highly specialised education that starts at 14, by 16 children are supposed to make ‘an informed decision’ about whether they want to specialise in medical or building engineering. There might be a few children capable of deciding that all they want to be is a radiographer at age 14 when they enroll in this place, but this level of specialisation this early seems set up to entrap students into ‘career’ tracks of their parents’ choosing. Because the focus is employability and skills development, it also means they are not geared toward higher education (though the possibility of this is maintained throughout the document in glowing language), thus entering their ‘chosen field’ at the very lowest level of qualification, leaving top level jobs with advancement possibilities to those who follow the higher track of education.

But the employability stuff is the worst. Because what is it that employers want? Training children to work adult hours — even though the latest research is uncovering how teenagers need more sleep and perform better when school starts later. Have they left their own school days so far behind that they can’t see that this erases childhood and leave students without the downtime they need to process what they are learning? I also wonder when we lost the old 9 to 5, and the desire to work less not more:

The UTC day will follow business hours starting at 0830hrs and finishing at 1730hrs

Getting them used to unpaid overtime and REALLY long work days:

All post 16 students will be required to undertake two extension activities, which will take place on two evenings a week

Getting them used to working for free – and taking advantage of their labour in the same way workfare does:

During the year it is anticipated that all students will undertake a period of several weeks of volunteering work during one of the extracurricular sessions.

It seems so cynical to me to have this kind of institution where a college used to be, taking advantage of local community fears of unemployment and parent’s need for something to do with their kids during working hours now that all children’s services have been destroyed. They’re doing this to channel local youth into technical jobs that will always have ceilings without higher education. Clearly this is targeted at poor kids and Black kids, the ones being failed by our current education system and blamed for it, the future drones of Britain.

You can download a scanned pdf here (apologies for the poor quality of the scan). The information sheet is as below, or for download here:

2014.11.19 Information sheet

They seem to be sticking to their timeline as posted earlier by the Brixton Blog, there will definitely be some community action around the public consultation and the plans:

  • End of Feasibility stage – November 2014
  • Design Development – up to end of January 2015
  • Public consultation – January – March 2015
  • Town planning submission – March 2015
  • Town planning decision – June 2015
  • Start on site (subject to approvals) – July 2015
  • Project completion – targeted for early 2018