Save Elliot playing fields!

Anti-ARK Academy protest in September 2008
Anti-ARK Academy protest in September 2008

THE GMB trade union is staging a protest demonstration outside Wandsworth Town Hall from from 6.45pm on Wednesday 4th July 2012, where the borough’s Finance and Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee meets at 7.30 pm.

The protest is over the sale of playing fields to finance a school’s refurbishment, while spending millions to pay for a new free school.

A GMB statement said: ‘The Committee is being asked to apply to the Secretary of State for Education for approval of the sale of playing fields at Elliot school in Putney.

‘This is to pay for the refurbishment of the school which the council owns.

‘The Secretary of State is expected to make the decision under Section 77 on 11th July 2012.

‘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 commenced work in December 2011 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

The GMB is calling on residents in the Borough to join the protest to oppose the application to the Secretary of State for approval to sell of the playing fields at Elliot School in Putney and to ask that the refurbishment is funded in another way.

The GMB will take the campaign against the sale of the school playing fields into the national arena as it has yet to be agreed by Education Secretary Gove.

Paul Maloney, GMB Senior Officer for school support staff said last week: ‘The GMB is calling this protest because the Tory Council is planning to transfer resources to the “well off” from the “less well off” in Wandsworth.

‘The Secretary of State should be aware that these proposals are meeting with significant local opposition.

‘Selling these playing fields to fund 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 playing fields 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.

‘The GMB is calling on the public in Wandsworth to oppose this asset stripping of publicly owned land used as playing field.

‘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 Finance and Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee must scrap these plans on July 4th.’

The GMB noted: ‘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.

‘If the Secretary of State gives approval on 11th July, as requested Wandsworth Council, the sale of the playing fields will go ahead 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.

‘These playing fields are owned by the Elliot Trust which was established 19 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 programmer.

‘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.’