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London borough seeks control of college in devolution pilot

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Southwark LBC has submitted a bid to the government to take over the running of an “inadequate” college in the borough.

Council leader Peter John (Lab) told LGC he believed that, working in conjunction with businesses, the local authority could act as a pilot for the rest of the country.

“This is our opportunity to put forward our ambitions for devolution into practice and ensure our residents have got the skills they need by taking a leading role in delivering a partnership to run a college,” he said.

Ofsted inspected Southwark College in December 2011 and found it to be inadequate. Financial concerns resulted in the college being merged with Lewisham College, something Cllr John said the council had reservations about. Since the merger Lewisham Southwark College has received two inadequate Ofsted judgements, the first in November 2013 and the latest in February 2015.

Cllr John said it had been a period of “frustration”, especially as colleges in surrounding boroughs were not offering the standard of education the council wanted.

In a letter to further education commissioner David Collins, Southwark’s cabinet member for children and schools Victoria Mills (Lab) said the council’s proposal to take over the running of Lewisham Southwark College was “not about finger pointing at the past” but a plan to show how local authorities could play “a bigger role in developing skills and raising standards” in further education.

The proposal to run the college had “huge risks”, said Cllr John. “There are reputational risks, there are financial risks, and there are risks you don’t deliver the outstanding education we hope to. But equally the potential is huge.”

Cllr John told LGC that by working closely with the borough’s businesses and schools, the council could help to better match students to jobs. He cited the fact there were “thousands” of construction and engineering jobs being created in the borough.

A detailed prospectus is now being considered by the commissioner who is expected to make a decision on the proposal by the end of the month.

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