The Labour Party have been busy attacking the Educaton Secretary Michael Gove for agreeing to a request from Wandsworth Council to authorise the sale of "playing fields" for Elliot School. As I have already pointed out the land being sold is not suitable as a playing field and is not used as a playing field. The reason for selling it is to enhance school sports facilities including a new gym.
The proposals which Mr Gove accepted were approved by the Finance and Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee on June 11th. The proposal was, as is recorded in the minutes "resolved by 12-0." In other words, it was supported by the Labour and Conservative councillors. Nor were the Labour councillors unaware of what they were doing. They got stuck into the details and were delighted that some modest changes they had requested were agreed to. The Labour Party even put out a leaflet which trumpeted how the Council had been "forced to modify" the plans but making clear that duly modified the plans were regarded by them as welcome.
Peter Carpenter, the Local Labour Councillor for Roehampton said: ‘This is a big win for Elliott School and local residents. Elliott School will get the refurbishment it so desperately needs, so that it can once again be the flagship School it was in the past. Local residents will be able to send their children to a local school which boasts outstanding educational facilities.’
The new proposals will go to the Department for Education for approval and, if approved, Elliott Pupils will move into temporary accommodation on the school site at the beginning of 2013. The existing buildings will then be refurbished so that the new school can open in September 2014.
Had Mr Gove seen the leaflet he might have got the impression that the Labour Party wanted him to approve the proposal. Had he seen the minutes of the meeting on June 11th he would have noted that the Leader of the Labour Group on Wandsworth Council, Cllr Rex Osborn, backed the proposal along with all the other Labour councillors.
Last night the committee met again and confirmed its view. The point being:
None of this land in question is used for organised sport by the school. Some of it has been concreted over and is hard-standing.
It includes a car park and other parts that are occupied by redundant buildings like the vacant caretaker's cottage. There is some grassed space included but much of it is on a steep slope and is therefore not suitable for any team games or sports activities.
When pupils play organised team sports like football, rugby, cricket and athletics they use the sports pitches in nearby Dover House Road . This arrangement will continue.
Space currently occupied by two tarmac-covered ball games courts would form part of the disposal. However these would be replaced by a new and improved ball games area in the south west corner of the site.
The layout of this new sports facility would permit Elliott to host competitive fixtures for the first time and would also be available for hire by local sports clubs, generating regular income for the school.
The scheme would allow the school to retain more of its outdoor space for education and recreational use, including important features like its outdoor amphitheatre.
What was Cllr Osborn to do? What a pickle he finds himself in. He knew the proposal was right. He had already made clear his support for it. Yet he is a loyal comrade and the Labour Party and the trade unions had decided that the "playing fields" of Elliot School were where the battle against Mr Gove and the education revolution could be won. (As Paul Goodman has spotted.)
Amidst all this drama a principled, heroic stance was called for. So having voted in favour on June 11th, last night Cllr Osborn abstained.