|Council Names Bryony Centre as Site for Free School|
Decision branded "outrageous" by Teachers' Union
Hammersmith and Fulham Council has announced it has "made formal" its intention to help the West London Free School find a site in the borough, and has identified the Bryony Centre in White City and Palingswick House in Hammersmith's King Street as likely new homes.
The Bryony Centre is currently empty following the relocation of adult education services to the Paragon Centre in White City last summer, and the council has indicated it could be used as a temporary home for at least the school's first year of operation, while Palingswick House is converted to a school.
West London Free School has also confirmed the council's proposal on its blog
However, the council's choice has been strongly criticised by the National Union of Teachers, as the Bryony Centre has already been earmarked for redevelopment as the new home of Cambridge School, a special school currently based in Hammersmith.
Cambridge School, which has been rated Outstanding by Ofsted, was one of 13 schools across the borough which were hit in the summer when the new coalition government cancelled the Building Schools for the Future programme and the rebuilding work the programme would have funded.
Now the NUT says the council's decision could cause a further delay for the Cambridge School rebuild.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT said: " This is an outrageous decision which has nothing to do with what is in the best interests of the community, but simply pandering to a vociferous minority."
The choice of Palingswick House, which currently houses 21 local charities and community groups as the school's permanent home is also proving controversial.
The building's current occupants are now reportedly being required to leave by this autumn, and move to new "community hubs" across the borough.
Hammersmith and Fulham Refugee Forum, which works with several organisations in Palingswick House, has condemned the council's action, and said it has not discussed these hubs with the organisations involved.
Palingswick House is one of the nine sites the council has proposed to sell, in order to reduce its £133 million debt, calling them under-used.
A final decision on the sale of these sites will be taken by the council’s Cabinet at its next meeting on February 7, but it is widely expected the plans will be rubber stamped.
Council Leader Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh confirms these expectations saying: " Having looked at the detailed consultation results and my officers' assessments of the impact of the proposals, I am minded to support the sale of the site, subject to the discussion at Cabinet.
" If we can do that and provide a home for a new school, offering new choices for local parents, I would be delighted."
West London Free School is one of three local free schools given the go ahead by the Coalition Government in September. The other, both primary schools in Shepherd's Bush are Ark Conway primary in White City and the Rivendale Free School.
Writer Toby Young, who heads the group planning to launch West London Free School in September, says he hopes to make " a full announcement about the school's site" in the "near future".
If Palingswick House is sold, as seems likely, the current occupants will be invited to apply for space in three new community hubs. Two sites, at Edward Woods estate and Lillie Road, are already under development, and the council says it is in discussions with the Lyric Theatre about adding a third community facility at its King Street site, as part of their major redevelopment project.
However, the H & R Refugee Forum says that these "hubs" will provide inadequate space for all the displaced organisations, and claims many will have to close.
A spokesperson for the forum also challenged Stephen Greenhalgh's assertion that the buildings going up for sale are "under-used".
"We wonder if the council has actually bothered to find out what work goes on day in, day out, in Palingswick House helping many thousands of local residents,” said the spokesperson. " Is the council actually suggesting that there is no longer a requirement to assist the refugees and other residents who depend on the services offered there?"
All new free schools are required by law to consult on their plans. The Secretary of State for Education will make the final decision on whether the school will open, having considered its impact on the local community and existing schools.
In the meantime, West London Free School is accepting applications from parents of local children in year six at primary school until January 31, and it is holding an Open Event for parents at Hammersmith Town Hall's Assembly Hall on January 24 from 5.30pm till 7pm. You can find out more at the school website.
January 18, 2011