Tooting special school’s ‘unfit-for-purpose’ building set for demolition – and a modern replacement

By Charlotte Lilywhite, Local Democracy Reporter

A school for children outside mainstream education will be rebuilt to transform its ‘poor facilities’.

The size of the Francis Barber Pupil Referral Unit, in Tooting, has been described as so limited the food technology class must double as the kitchen and dining area.

The plans, from the Department for Education (DfE), will see the existing building making up the school, in Franciscan Road, excluding the sports hall, bulldozed and rebuilt. The new school will have a two-storey administration block and an up to three-storey teaching block.

Wandsworth council’s planning committee unanimously approved the plans on March 19.

Labour councillor Rex Osborn said: “What we’ve got there is a school which is below minimum teaching space for the requirements, where there is constant improvised usage – for example, the food technology room doubles as the kitchen and dining area, the admin staff operate out of portacabins on the site.”

Francis Barber Pupil Referral Unit, Tooting (Picture: Google Street View)

It comes after the DfE selected Francis Barber for funding from its school rebuilding programme in 2021 to modernise its facilities to better meet pupils’ needs.

The school is for pupils aged 11 to 16 who experience difficulty accessing schooling or who can’t maintain a placement at a mainstream school. It will continue to accommodate 56 pupils and 29 staff under the plans.

Previous plans for the site were deferred by the planning committee in October after members raised concerns about the impact on neighbours.

Changes since made to the plans include setting back the top storey of the teaching block to provide more distance from nearby homes and planting more trees for extra screening.

A statement submitted with the application said the existing building ‘is no longer suitable for the school, being dated, in a poor condition and at the end of its working life’.

Councillors agreed the revised application is an improvement on the previous plans. Labour councillor Leonie Cooper said: “I think we did absolutely the right thing last time. I think the design is so much better and I feel able this time to say that I support it.”

Existing pupils will move to a temporary site in the borough while the works are being carried out, which are expected to take around two years. They will return to the permanent site once the revamp is complete.

Pictured top: Visualisation of the rebuilt Francis Barber Pupil Referral Unit (Picture: Innes Associates/Department for Education)

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