College improvement plans
Dear Carer/Guardian/Parent,
 
I would be grateful if you could find the time to read the attachment below.  It provides some important background information to our capital development plans

With best wishes
Phil Harland
Principal


Dear Carer/Guardian/Parent

Brighton & Hove is blessed to have two of the UK’s highest performing Sixth Form Colleges and a College of FE managing most of the post 16 educational provision for the City.  Varndean College has a reputation for excellence and inclusion; being able to push high achieving academic students to new levels whilst at the same time supporting some of the most vulnerable students in the City. We have provided sixth form education since 1975 to students from Brighton & Hove and the surrounding areas. The College is committed to ensuring the best opportunities for all young people as they progress from high school to higher education or the workplace through our broad range of qualifications and subjects. At the time of inception there were no sixth forms in Brighton High Schools and Varndean was the de facto sixth form for the schools. We are proud of our record in enabling students to achieve beyond their own expectations.

We believe we continue to have a moral imperative to provide a comprehensive curriculum that meets the needs of all those who wish to study here, irrespective of post code.  This view is not held by all our neighbours. I was approached yesterday by one of the Green Varndean activist who expressed a view that we should curtail our growth and that our offer should be A levels only to those resident in the immediate locality.  That is not a view held by myself, the Governors or my staff, however it is true that our commitment to this and the wider community has led to increased pressure on our estate and the proliferation of temporary accommodation. The alternative strategy of containing student numbers would lead to a highly selective organisation with a narrow curriculum offer; cheap to deliver but failing to meet the needs of the City.

We are pleased that whilst welcoming additional students we have developed our facilities in keeping with the original character of the College. In order to further develop our estate we now need to remove the temporary accommodation and replace them with permanent structures. We are unapologetic of our strategy to invest in the education resource.

It has taken the College 4 years to secure £2.9 million from the Government to build a new STEM centre. The STEM centre will be handed over to the College by January 2020. When it opens two temporary units consisting of 3 classrooms and a laboratory will be permanently removed from the College grounds. This is a very good start and whilst progress is made on the STEM building we will begin planning the detail of a future building programme that is likely to encompass a new teaching block, additional catering facilities, toilet facilities and associated space, which will result in all temporary units being removed from the College grounds. This is our ‘master plan’ nothing more nothing less.  In order to achieve this we will need to secure a further £4 million of Government funding. There is no plan for rapid expansion, our only wish is to provide outstanding educational experiences for all those that choose Varndean. The footprint of the College will be smaller than it is now as we consolidate existing temporary facilities into well-planned and fit-for-purpose permanent buildings, and we will still have beautiful playing fields/pitches and open space. It has always been our intention to protect this and the character of the campus as a whole. This development is now at risk because of the actions the group calling themselves Green Varndean.

Regarding the residential development of a small strip of land on our northern perimeter; this City is facing a housing crisis  and there are significant constraints in identifying new land for such. Previously unidentified sites, such as ours, are crucial to meeting need and all opportunities need to be explored.  We have taken advice and guidance from experienced planning consultants, transport experts, ecologists and archaeologists to ensure that the scheme we have proposed gives due care and consideration to our environment and to enhance it where possible. As a result we are looking to secure planning permission for a scheme of high quality and generous residential properties to meet the need identified in the City Plan. Our scheme which includes a 30% affordable housing offer, has been designed to site well within their context and minimise impact on residential amenity and the environment, whilst still allowing views down towards Brighton for existing residents of Surrenden Road.  With only 10 dwellings on 0.6 hectares there will still be 56.4 acres of open space remaining.

In addition to removing the temporary classrooms we wish to improve our sporting facilities and therefore the receipt obtained from the release of a small strip of land for development will fund a 3G pitch and the improvement of the second competition grass pitch. As competition pitches they cannot be used on a frequent basis because wear and tear will make them unplayable.  The 3G pitch will increase the amount of playing time for both College users and the community. This development has the full support of Sport England and is consistent with the City’s Playing Pitch Strategy.

There is an ongoing concerted effort led by a small number of local residents to discredit; our plans, the integrity of staff and Governors and the long standing reputation of this College. They are well organised, disciplined and use social media to great effect however some of the information is misleading and contains both inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

Inaccuracies such as we are planning to build luxury homes. The homes are a mixture; 1@ two bed, 6@ three bed and 3@four bed. The three and four bed are family homes. The City Plan identifies that the largest need in the City is for family homes (53% of need) and that that 68% should be houses rather than flats.  So in that respect it is contributing to the identified needs of the City. The development is low density but it would be wrong to equate low density with luxury accommodation. Inaccuracies such as “being supportive of the school”, yet at a meeting with College Governors representatives of Green Varndean made it clear they opposed the developments completely. On a radio broadcast this week a representative of Green Varndean indicated that it wasn’t the developments, but the means by which we seek to raise funds, that they objected to and went so far as to suggest we approach our alumni for the cash. A false impression has been given as to how big the area for development is, many of the photographs suggest that the top football pitch is included which is incorrect. There is misrepresentation of the strip of land being named Varndean Green and the misrepresentation of the entire strip of land as a nature reserve.

Much has been made of the application to have the strip of land identified as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). In pursuance of that aim a questionnaire has been developed for members of the public to complete. I have written to all our students encouraging them to look at both sides of the argument before committing themselves to any viewpoint. I have asked Green Varndean not to collect the personal details of any of our students for to do so Green Varndean will be in breach of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and there are safeguarding issues to consider. If successful, Green Varndean would have us believe that “the community will be able to decide what to do with it” (quote from an article in the Argus September 14th 2018) which is simply untrue and misleading. However, as an ACV and when the area comes to the market for sale they would be entitled to make a commercial bid for its acquisition before all others. If their bid was successful only then they would then be able to decide what to do with it.

The simple matter of the fact is that we need better educational facilities for the young people of this City and beyond.  Why this is so important is captured in our public value statement:

To add value to the social, economic and physical well-being of the community we serve, locally and globally by engaging students, educating and developing them successfully in accordance with our core values and mission statement, so that they themselves, by virtue of their success, are in turn able to benefit the community.

By investing in continuing improvement educational resource we and future generations will benefit.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this
 
With Very Best Wishes
 
Phil
 
©2019 Varndean College, Brighton, United Kingdom

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