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.

Save

Leave a Reply