There has been a substantial educational presence in Wornington Road for nearly 150 years since the first Board School was opened here in North Kensington in 1874 (see ‘Wornington Road School – A History’). Generations of families in North Kensington and throughout the borough have been educated within the building as it exists – from teaching English to the Vietnamese Boat people in the late 1970s and speakers of other languages through to access to university and other career paths. Just last year a local homeless student succeeded in gaining entry to Oxford University.
Despite all this, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is planning to sacrifice Kensington and Chelsea College (KCC), Wornington Road site, to property developers.
Sale of the college
The KCC site at Wornington Road was sold to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) for £25.4 million in August 2016. According to Ian Rule, Interim Vice Principal, Finance & Resources, this was due to the college being in grave financial difficulties.
However inadequate the price may have been, a RBKC Cabinet Key Decision report (KD04801R) was uncovered in April 2016 revealed that Wornington College was to be demolished, after which the site would be privately redeveloped as housing with a reduced facility for education that could amount to less than 30% of current useable space.
There has also been discomfort about the circumstances behind the sale of the land as an employee of the council, Tony Redpath, was appointed to sit on the Board of Governance of KCC in 2014. To avoid any supposed ‘conflict of interest’, Mr Redpath took a ‘sabbatical’ from the Board of Governors at KCC, between 16 February 2016 and 31 December 2016, at the exact time that the Cabinet at RBKC went ahead and purchased the freehold of the College building.
The college’s precarious financial position as outlined by present financial controller, Ian Rule, came after years of mismanagement by the college.
KCC has been in financial difficulties since 2012. The Skills Funding Agency (SFA), on which KCC depends for a significant proportion of its annual funding, issued a formal Notice of Concern in October 2012 which was not lifted until September 2014.
The issuing of the Notice of Concern appears to have resulted from a pattern at KCC of initially forecasting end of year surpluses that subsequently degenerated into significant deficits by year end. In July 2015 the College’s draft budget for 2015/2016 showed a planned surplus of £300,000 with surpluses of £331,000 and £312,000 predicted for the following two years. By October 2015 KCC were instead forecasting an in year operating deficit of £948,000 and this was followed, the following year, by a projected in year deficit of £1.7 million.
The college’s financial difficulties were not helped by overseas trips ostensibly to recruit foreign students, that were undertaken by former Principal Mark Brickley, who left under mysterious circumstances in October 2016. KCC have refused Freedom of information requests to ascertain the reasons behind his resignation, however it is clear that over £60,000 was spent on eight foreign trips made by Brickley and very few oversees students were recruited.
At the same time as the financial management of the college was shambolic, there was a noticeable lack of promotion of college courses, both locally and across London.
Whereas in the past the college was actively advertising courses on posters in local shops or buses, and leafleting local people in good time, it was now very difficult for anyone to find out what courses were available even if they made the effort. The college’s marketing has been so poor that the college prospectus was only released in June, almost six months later than most other colleges in London.
This year’s Ofsted Report for KCC (including both Wornington Road and Hortensia Road, Chelsea, sites) was published in March and found a number of areas falling short: principally, ‘governance arrangements’, a low proportion of course completion and a low proportion of people working towards apprenticeship qualifications. KCC received a 3- rating that equates to “requires improvement” and was the same rating that the college achieved when last visited by the Ofsted inspectors in 2015 and 2013.
Due to cuts of 24% in the national budget provision for further education in 2015/2016, the SFA began recommending that further education colleges should merge wherever possible to strengthen their finances, and specifically recommended a merger between KCC and City Lit in which both parties would hopefully retain their individuality and a measure of independence. Unfortunately the KCC/City Lit merger fell through and the reasons for this are still unclear. However, we do know that this has left KCC facing a merger with Ealing Hammersmith and West London College (EHWL) in which KCC is likely to lose control over what is left of its assets and operations.
Mr Redpath, the RBKC employee turned KCC Board Member, warned in February 2017, following the collapse of the City Lit merger talks, that Ealing Hammersmith and West London College were ‘already circling’ and that KCC’s problem was that its attraction to larger colleges was ‘based on its assets rather than it activities’.
Michele Sutton, former Interim Principal of Kensington and Chelsea College, has said of the merger:
“We are delighted to be able to announce the agreement to enter into this merger with a very strong, well-respected and successful neighbouring college. This announcement (will ensure) good provision in the borough while at the same time drawing on the resources of a larger organisation. We are looking forward to working closely together as this merger takes shape over the coming months and ensuring a smooth transition.”
Sutton’s statement suggests that the merger is confirmed. However, current Chair of Governors, Mary Curnock Cook has promised a consultation with the community on the terms of the merger once they have been worked out. This consultation is scheduled to start in September this year.
Save Wornington College petition
The Save Wornington College campaign was set up in October 2016. In the subsequent four months, over 1,600 signatures were collected supporting the following demands:
‘K and C College in Wornington Road has been serving the adult educational needs of the North Kensington community for many years and has transformed the lives of a multitude of the Borough’s residents (including some of it’s most vulnerable members) by providing courses in ESOL, Access to Higher Education, Teacher Training, the Creative Arts and Health and Social Care.
‘However, all this is set to change as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council have now purchased the freehold of the college building and intend to redevelop the whole site as housing, with an unseen commitment to re-provide a smaller educational space.
‘We believe that under the Council’s Consolidated Local Plan 2015 the current D1 use of the site falls under the “social and community uses” category and is protected under policy CK1.
‘We believe that redeveloping the site for predominately residential uses would be contrary to policy CK1 and we are calling on the Council to ensure that the entire building remains in educational use. We ask the Council to debate these issues at a Full Council meeting.’
Kensington & Chelsea council were duly obliged to discuss the college’s future at its Full Council Meeting on Wednesday 26th April and a representative of the Save Wornington College campaign spoke to the meeting. The speech ended by asking for the council to support ‘our demands and [protect] the educational wellbeing of the residents of North Kensington and the long-term future of Wornington College’.
‘Consultation Event’ featured on Channel 4 News
The college announced a ‘Consultation Day’ to be hold on the afternoon of Thursday 29 June at the Wornington Road site. It was originally planned as a standalone event, but following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the college decided to tie-in the consultation with a fundraiser for Grenfell victims.
The ‘Consultation Day’ took place in the library of the college and was so well attended that many people could not find a seat. Concerns about the future of the college were expressed to a panel, headed by the Chair of Governors, Mary Curnock Cook, who was visibly taken aback by the level of frustration and anger felt by so many people in the community as well as former students. This took up most of a Channel 4 News report into the issue.
During the meeting, Curnock Cook agreed to participate in a public meeting to allow more members of the community to have their voices heard. The college have also committed to publish important information on their website, including the Heads of Terms of the sale, their current marketing plan, and possibly also the surveyor’s report showing the building is no longer fit for purpose, although there was no firm commitment on sharing this document.
Merger ‘consultation’ in the autumn
At the Consultation Event on 29 June, Ian Rule spelled out that a consultation into the planned merger between KCC and EHWL was being planned for autumn.
Garry Philips CEO of EHWL met staff at the Wornington Road College site on 13 July and informed them about his plans. It appears that talks between KCC and EHWL are at an advanced stage, so it is unclear what the terms of any consultation will be.
A public meeting has been promised by the chair of the governors, Mary Curnock Cook, in which college and council representatives will hear from the local community, staff and students. No date has been set for this meeting as yet.
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