Brent’s wellbeing scrutiny agrees borough’s last youth centre be turned into a ‘free school’ with youth provision

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

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

Brent’s last youth centre in Harlesden is to become a free school under a private provider after scrutiny chiefs voted in favour of the plan – despite community opposition.

The community and wellbeing scrutiny committee chose not to refer the proposal to turn the Roundwood Youth Centre into an "alternative provision free school" for excluded pupils back to cabinet at a packed meeting yesterday (May 9).

Conservative government legislation dictates that new schools must be "free schools or academies" outside local authority oversight, opposed by Labour Party policy.

All of Brent's secondary schools are academies while most of the borough's primary schools are not.

Kensal Green's Cllr Jumbo Chan had "called-in" cabinet's decision on April 15, arguing the providers will lack accountability, and calling for the cabinet to approach existing local authority schools to oversee the provision.

Others within the community also asked the council to reconsider.

Gherie Weldeyesus, a science teacher, reminded the panel of a campaign 10 years ago to save the football fields where Ark Academy now stands in Cecil Avenue.

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"The council promised the football pitches will be available to the local community and the community will be able to access it easily. Unfortunately, now, only clubs can afford to play at Ark Academy [...]."

The pitches cost £120 to hire for a two-hour game.

"You are promising the youth club will continue," added Gherie. "I know this will not happen. Stop this madness." Brent says provision for kids at the centre would be protected, with "expanded youth provision at evenings and weekends".

Simone Aspis, director of Changing Perspectives, said in a statement that establishing an alternative free school "which is just another special school for disabled pupils with special educational needs will only limit future opportunities for this group of pupils".

But three speakers from the Young Brent Foundation (YBF) charity were all in favour of the plan.

Chris Murray said: "We are key stakeholders and will make sure the facility is used."

Jennifer Ogole, founder of Bang Edutainment, added: "We worked with the council and pushed for this to happen. What we bring to the table is other partners. There's no better use for this [centre]."

Jean Roberts, an observer from Brent Teaching Association, spoke of the "appalling" number of children excluded from academies who she feared would end up in the unit. She argued that Brent's primary schools could oversee provision.

Gail Tolley, strategic director for children and young people, said the idea was first consulted on in February 2017 with a group of secondary school heads. She said the provider would have to be chosen from an approved government list.

Cllr Mili Patel, cabinet lead on children's safeguarding, said the centre was "chronically underused" and any provider would "have to include a council representative and a secondary school representative on the trustees board".

In the cabinet report signed off by Gail Tolley, Brent's strategic director for children and young people, officers say the council has little choice but to send a number of excluded pupils outside Brent to be educated, because of "insufficient local, high-quality provision to meet their needs". The town hall hopes the new centre will go some way to addressing that, which could mean those kids are brought back into Brent's borders for schooling.

Only two of the seven committee members voted against.