17 January 2017

Free schools: A project cooked up by Tories who claim to be committed to social mobility has failed our children

(This post from Victoria about the closure of 'Southwark Free School', first appeared on LabourList.)

Last week saw the demise of yet another free school. Southwark Primary, which opened four-and-a-half-years ago in temporary buildings, will hastily close by February half-term never having made it to its permanent site, after being developed at great public expense.
As Southwark council steps in to pick up the pieces and find places for children at other local schools it is difficult not to grind the axe about the government’s free school programme. We remain pragmatic that the programme is here to stay. However the government must reconsider the need for free school applicants to have a local and outstanding educational experience. At a time when many areas are experiencing a shortage of school places, and schools’ budgets are being cut, they must also stop wasting money building schools where there is no established demand.
The story of free schools in Southwark makes clear the important role that councils still have to play in education despite the Tories’ marginalising of our local expertise. We have seen a handful of free schools open in Southwark. Southwark primary free school was set up without the support of the council, in an area that didn’t have acute pressure on places and by a group that had no notable experience of running a primary school locally. It has never established itself as a school of choice – pupils range in age from four to nine years old but total only 56 rather than the 300 that could have been admitted by now. It has also been a source of constant worry to the council because of the quality of teaching, the turnover of headteachers and the poor quality of the temporary facilities, where it has remained for far too long.
However, where there has been involvement of the council – as an honest broker, if you like – free schools have become popular choices for parents. Strong community support, areas with acute shortages of places and the council working with established local providers have been key ingredients in creating successful schools. Two such schools are actually in council buildings – former schools that had been closed for a number of years with the buildings used for different purposes. It was the council that approached two local academies to work with us to reopen the buildings as much needed primary schools. Both have been given clear bills of health by Ofsted and are having no difficulty attracting pupils.
A large community campaign for a much-needed new secondary school, supported by the council, has seen another “home-grown” and outstanding Southwark school open a second school this last September. As proof of the strange educational landscape we find ourselves in, it is now the council that is managing the procurement and building of this £46m scheme rather than the Education Funding Agency.
Before left-leaning readers write-off Southwark council for colluding in the free school programme it worth noting that many free school proposals here have not gained any momentum. In fact we are probably one of the few places where a free school received approval to open but never did after a concerted campaign to prevent it. It’s not everyday that you win a fight against the Harris Federation.
More importantly it is Southwark’s own investment in community primary schools that has provided the great majority of school places that we need. With the government refusing to let local authorities open schools we took the decision to expand existing schools where we could. Community primary schools and special schools – that are rated “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted and that are in areas of high demand and have been oversubscribed – which posses the space to expand have been part of an investment programme worth well over £120m. The majority of that funding is council capital that could have been spent elsewhere. It hasn’t been because we made a very clear decision about the importance of local community schools. With the ending of building schools for the future we have also used expansion as a means to improve our existing school estate.
We are proud of these community schools and we are proud of the collaborative relationship we have with the majority of our academies and free schools. They work with an incredibly diverse population, that often faces many challenges, which brings me back full circle to Southwark primary free school. This vanity project has failed one of our most disadvantaged communities. Some 53 per cent of the pupils at SPFS are disadvantaged, 22 per cent have special educational needs and 61 per cent of pupils do not have English as their first language. At key Stage one, 76 per cent of Southwark children would reach the expected standard in maths and 71 per cent would meet it for writing, the comparative figures for Southwark primary are nine per cent and 27 per cent. A project cooked up by Conservative politicians who profess to be committed to social mobility has failed some of our most vulnerable young learners.
The story of education in inner London is one where our students very often arrive at school behind where they should be in development. Yet we are a success story. Our children leave our schools outperforming their peers across the country. Day in, day out, Southwark schools are doing the heavy lifting when it comes to social mobility and our schools and the local authority are incredibly skilled in doing this. Yet, at a time when experts seem to have been dismissed, it often feels that this educational know-how has been brushed aside.
Victoria Mills is Labour councillor for Peckham Rye in Southwark and cabinet member for children and schools.

25 November 2016

Salt giveaway details

Southwark Council is giving away salt at the locations below. Click on the image to enlarge it.

5 August 2016

Peak time travel for Southwark residents - tell us your views

Southwark's Overview and Scrutiny Committee is carrying out an investigation into the problems relating to peak-time travel across the borough.  

As part of this work we have put together a short survey to gather your views.  You can complete the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/7CSGMYT

We want to know about those issues, big and small, which make it difficult for you to get to work or get the kids to school in the morning.  Are there bus stops where people just can't get on the bus because it's always to crowded?  Is it difficult getting in and out of your train station at peak times?  Are there cycling routes which you feel are unsafe?  

We also want to get your positive suggestions for improvement. Could extending a bus route a little further link up the local transport network?  Could more be done to relieve congestion on the roads?

Southwark Council does not have direct control over many of the issues which will come up, but the council does have significant influence.  Southwark Scrutiny will engage with various organisations, including the new Mayor and TfL to bring these problems to the fore, and see if more can be done to resolve them.

Please complete the survey and let us know what you think.  

2 August 2016

Free Swim and Gym in Southwark

Just a quick note to remind Peckham Rye residents that, since 29th July 2016, all Southwark residents can use the swim and gym facilities for free in six of the borough’s leisure centres.  This is one of Southwark Labour’s flagship policies from the 2014 manifesto, and your Peckham Rye Councillors are very proud that it is being delivered after a successful year piloting the scheme.

Registration for free swim and gym is here. Alternatively, ask in your local leisure centre or library for an application form. 

25 February 2016

Peckham Rye Adventure Playground: protected

As local residents will know, Southwark Council has suffered as a result of unprecedented cuts Government funding since 2010.  The council has had a third of its funding cut.
As a result of these deep cuts, the council has been forced to consider reducing adventure play services. This could have meant that Peckham Rye Adventure Playground, while keeping its weekend sessions, might have lost of its four after-school sessions. Many local people spoke to us about this issue and Renata, Victoria and I were committed to using our local devolved budget to protect the hours to ensure the reduction would have been avoided.
I’m very pleased to tell you that, at last night’s budget setting meeting, we managed to secure a commitment that Peckham Rye Adventure Playground will see no change in opening hours. 
We are now taking a look at how the hours are structured to see if it would be possible to open up the playground to more people over the whole of the weekend.  Watch this space for further news.

5 January 2016

Southwark's Scrutiny Committee warns of 'devastating impact' of Government's Housing Bill

Southwark’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee has warned that the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill would have a ‘devastating impact’ on Southwark.

The Scrutiny Committee has investigated the impact of the Government’s proposals to introduce right to buy for housing association tenants, which will be funded by forcing councils to sell off vacant properties in “high value” areas. The Committee has warned that the impact of the proposals in Southwark would be to “significantly reduce our housing stock, damage our ability to build much needed new homes and could indirectly lead to an increase in homelessness and overcrowding.”

The Scrutiny Committee conducted a series of interviews with housing officers, Chief Executives of major national housing associations, the Cabinet Member for Housing and Former head of the Civil Service and current Chair of the Peabody Trust Lord Kerslake.

The Scrutiny report outlines a number of risks arising from the proposals, including home building and provision in the borough and the financial impact of the council’s housing budget. It is estimated that 30% of council homes in Southwark could be lost through the forced sale of high value council homes, and the report warns that because the Bill does not include any ring-fencing of funding or replacement homes to a particular area or local authority, “It is unlikely Housing Associations will build enough replacement homes in our borough and probably not in our city”.

The report also warns that the Bill could result in increased levels of homelessness and overcrowding, due to fewer council homes being available for Southwark residents. The Committee has outlined a number of recommendations to protect the interests of council and Housing Association tenants, and the council’s ambition of building 11,000 homes, including an exemption for newly built council homes.

Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Gavin Edwards, said:

“Southwark is at the heart of the affordable housing crisis in London, with thousands of residents on the council’s housing waiting list and a population predicted to grow by 21% over the next 10 years. But at a time when the council is embarking on the most ambitious council house building programme in the country, these proposals could have a devastating effect on council housing in our borough.

“The Government’s own analysis has shown that for every 9 council homes sold under council home “Right to Buy” policy, post 2012, only one new home has been built. There is a real danger that the council’s ambition of building 11,000 new council homes could be eroded by the forced sale of new council homes.

“The Scrutiny Committee is calling for an urgent review of the council’s housing investment programme to determine the impact of these proposals, and for the cabinet to continue lobbying the Government to rethink these policies, which will inflict unjustifiable harm on Southwark residents.” 

The full report is available online: http://moderngov.southwark.gov.uk/documents/s58360/Right%20to%20Buy.pdf

15 May 2015

One Tree Hill Concert - fundraiser for Nepal earthquake victims

There will be a summer evening concert on One Tree Hill in Southwark Woods at 6.30pm Saturday 23rd May. The venue is St Augustine's Church, One Tree Hill, Honor Oak Park.

Suggested donation of £10.00

The OneTree Hill Sinfonia will be playing:-

Grieg - Peer Gynt Suite 1
Varela - Urashima Taro
Sibelius - Symphony No 2 in D

Please do come along for an entertaining evening and to support this very good cause.