Decision to sell four acres of playing fields to fund £30m free school is a scandal, says union

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Selling four acres of school playing fields to pay for the refurbishment of one of the council’s own secondary schools while finding up to £30m to pay for a new Bolingbroke free school in the borough is an absolute scandal, says GMB.

The union is calling on the Education Committee of the London Borough of Wandsworth, meeting today, to scrap the sale of four acres of playing fields at Elliot School in Putney to pay for the refurbishment of the school which the council owns.

GMB senior officer Paul Maloney said: “The Tory council is transferring resources to the “well off” from the “less well off” in the borough. Selling four acres of school playing fields to pay for the refurbishment of one of the council’s own secondary schools while finding up to £30m to pay for a new Bolingbroke free school in the borough is an absolute scandal.

“These four acres are in an area of the borough where the average household income is less than 2/3rds of the London average. The council was well aware last year that Elliot needed investment when a £40.3 million refurbishment was cancelled by the newly elected government. Yet a few months after that the council announced that they were spending £13 million from reserves to buy the site in Battersea for a new school in an area where the household income are nearly double the London average.

“ARK is involved with both projects. ARK is a menace as far as education provision in Wandsworth is concerned. They had their fingers in the plans for an elite Bolingbroke free school until GMB opposition led to changes in the planned catchment area. Now they are up to their necks in these plans to sell these school playing fields. They claim to be on the side of the poor and disadvantaged kids. How does getting rid of playing space do that?

“Wandsworth council is nothing short of a thundering disgrace in proposing the sale of these playing fields. GMB is calling on the public in Wandsworth to oppose this asset stripping of publicly owned land used as playing field. As well as sale of outdoor playing fields the plan will also lead to the knocking down of one of the largest indoor sports halls in London and the loss of this amenity to the community.

Whatever education outcomes are agreed for Elliot, and whether or not it becomes an academy, none should involve the sale of playing fields. That should be common ground for all involved. We must unite to save these school playing fields. The Education Committee must scrap these plans today.”

Last year a GMB report showed that the average annual household income of parents near the Elliot School was 63% of the London average household income.

Carillion Construction UK Ltd has just commenced work on a £13.2 million 73 week contract to convert the old Bolingbroke Hospital site, in Battersea, into a new free school. The first phase is due to open in September 2012. Wandsworth Council last year acquired the site from the NHS for £13 million using its own funds which it has now leased to ARK for 125 years. Last year GMB demonstrated that the average annual income of parents living near this new school was up to 186% of the London average household income.

Parents in Tooting are currently being consulted on plans by Katherine Birbalsingh, a director of a company registered in Ashford in Kent, to open a 120-place-per-year Michaela Free School in Tooting in September 2013. She plans to use a building currently used by the Trident Centre on Bickersteth Road SW17, which is owned by the London Development Agency. Katherine Birbalsingh, the proposed headteacher, came to prominence when she criticised the quality of state education at the 2010 Tory Party Conference.

GMB is calling on the Education Committee of Wandsworth Council to look again and scrap plans to sell these four acres of playing fields at Elliot School in Putney and to fund the refurbishment in another way when the committee meets later this week. The plan to sell the school playing fields and to turn Elliot school into an academy has yet to be agreed by the Michael Gove Secretary of State for Education.


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