Decision to turn Brent’s last youth centre into a ‘free’ school called in

Roundwood myspace Centre in Longstone Avenue Harlesden pic credit: Adam Thomas

Roundwood myspace Centre in Longstone Avenue Harlesden pic credit: Adam Thomas - Credit: Archant

A cabinet decision to turn Brent’s last youth centre in Harlesden into a “free” school has been challenged by a councillor and condemned by union chiefs.

Cabinet chiefs gave the green light to turning the Roundwood Youth Centre, in Longstone Avenue, into a "free" school for excluded pupils at a lively meeting on April 15.

The plan is for an "alternative provision free school" with an integrated youth offer on the site.

The youth workers at the centre face possible redundancy as the council seeks a new provider.

"Free" schools are academies and seen as part of the Conservative government's privatisation of state-run education.

The decision has been "called in" by Cllr Jumbo Chan, meaning it will go back to the council for further examination.

"It's disappointing that Brent Council has seemingly chosen to surrender another of its precious community assets," he said.

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"I'm calling for the cabinet to reconsider its decision by formally approaching existing local authority schools requesting they oversee this alternative provision."

Brent National Education Union (NEU) claimed the council had not looked at other potential school sites in the borough such as the Roe Green Strathcona school, which is earmarked for closure.

NEU officers have written to Brent Council leader Cllr Muhammed Butt, who was heckled at the meeting for supposedly breaching Labour Party policy opposing free schools.

They argue the provision should be under LA control and not as a "free" School run by a Labour council and an academy trust.

Hank Roberts, Brent NEU president said: "Has no one at the top of the council watched the Panorama programmes exposing the iniquitous practices of academies?

"I am sure they have, yet Cllr Butt and Cllr Sandra Kabir, who led the privatisation of The Village school, continue to support the privatisation of our schools supported by Gail Tolley [Brent Council's strategic director for children and young people].

"They should follow the lead of other Labour councils who are promoting the party line such as Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Camden and Redbridge."

A Brent Council spokesperson said they had "exciting plans" for Roundwood Youth Centre. "We plan to establish an Alternative Provision setting on the Roundwood site to support young people in Brent more effectively during the day, when the centre is under-utilised.

This Alternative Provision will deliver education to children and young people who are at risk of permanent exclusion from secondary school."

They added: " Brent Council approved a £0.25M saving from the youth service budget at full council on February 25 2019. This approved the transformation of the Roundwood site to an educational setting with voluntary and community sector led activities to enhance the current offer for vulnerable adolescents while saving on premises costs.

There will be a formal consultation process for any council staff whose roles may be affected by the planned changes [...] The Council will not run these services."

The call-in will be heard by the scrutiny committee on Thursday (May 9).