Union Accuses Council Of Plans To Sell Playing Fields To Fund Building Works

Council estimates "that the school requires an investment of around £22m"

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Elliot School

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The GMB Union accused the council of being "axe grinders" in its education policy  following the proposal to sell four acres of school playing fields to pay for refurbishment of council
secondary school while finding £30m for the new Bolingbroke free school.

GMB, the union for school support staff, is calling on the public in Wandsworth to support a campaign to stop the sale of 4 acres of playing fields at Elliot School in Putney to fund new buildings on the site which will become an academy school on a much reduced site.

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. Wandsworth Council is asking for the go ahead to sell these playing fields to fund the refurbishment of the existing building and make it into an academy school. The school charity ARK is party to these plans. ARK will be part of a rebranding of the school and will take over the new building and the school from September 2012.

The playing fields are owned by the Elliott Trust which was established 18 months ago. The Trust partners are two other Wandsworth schools, Chestnut Grove, Ernest Bevan and the Institute of Education at Roehampton. At that time the Labour Government put in £700,000 to form the trust. A £40.3m investment was planned to refurbish Elliot school and was due to start in summer 2011 under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. This investment was cancelled in summer 2010 under Tory spending cuts. It is now proposed that the land is returned from Elliot Trust to the council so that the playing fields can be sold to fund this new investment.

The 'proposal' is going to the Secretary of State in January because Elliott is no longer a failing school and therefore cannot become a sponsored academy without the go ahead from the Education Department.

Paul Maloney GMB Senior Officer for school support staff said:
“Selling 4 acres of publicly owned school playing fields to pay for the refurbishment of one of the council's own secondary schools while finding £30m to pay for a new Bolingbroke free school in the borough shows the extent to which the “axe grinders” have taken over education policy in Wandsworth."

He continued:
"ARK has become a menace as far as developing 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 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.  For parents and the general public the information on these plans and on the consultation process has not been made widely available. There are public
consultation meetings with ARC at Elliott next week. GMB want to see these meeting packed.
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”.

A spokesman for Wandsworth Council told PutneySW15.com: "The council is committed to providing a range of improvements at this school so that students and pupils have the best possible learning environment and the best possible facilities. We estimate that the school requires an investment of around £22m to deliver these important goals.

"We are now looking at a range of options to fund these improvements. However nothing has yet been decided and we do not expect to reach a final decision until next year."

December 27, 2011