'Dirty classes' get boot from adult learning centre
PUBLISHED: 22:22 31 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:09 05 October 2010
THE oldest adult education centre in Britain is to close under surprise local authority plans to use the building for school pupils. The Bethnal Green Centre in East London stops its vocational courses and daytime classes after the summer recess
By Michael Parker
THE oldest adult education centre in the country is set to close under local authority plans drawn up to use the building for school pupils.
The Bethnal Green Centre in East London stops its vocational courses and daytime classes after the summer recess.
Instead, it will be used by pupils from Bethnal Green Technology College while their school nearby is being refurbished.
But staff and students at the centre say the move will be the death of the last easily-accessible vocational courses in the East End.
Up to 400 adult students study on courses like carpentry, upholstery, jewellery-making and car maintenance which require 'dirty class' equipment that cannot be easily transferred to another building.
They insist the school pupils do not need their workshops and could be accommodated in rooms at other centres.
Courses that require no machinery or 'dirty class' equipment, like literacy and numeracy classes, languages and sports, will be moved to other buildings such as Rich Mix arts, Oxford House community and York Hall leisure centres. Five rooms at Rich Mix are being prepared for the move.
But there appears to be no plans for the workshop courses.
So the students themselves formed an 'Association of Dirty Classes' to fight to save the centre in Bethnal Green Road.
A petition with 300 signatures was given to Tower Hamlets cabinet member for education, Cllr Clair Hawkins, when she visited the centre on March 20, the first opportunity the adult students had for any consultation.
One of the protesters, Tilly Langton, said in a letter to the Advertiser: "I cannot begin to explain the tragedy it would be to lose Bethnal Green Centre.
So I have asked the head of Tower Hamlets children's services, Kevan Collins, to come to the centre and speak to the students, the Association of Dirty Classes and the 'gagged' staff to understand what it would mean to lose the oldest adult education centre in the country."
Lecturers have also held a union meeting to object to the closure and have condemned disciplinary threats against staff involved in the campaign.
The students themselves have formed the Association of Dirty Classes, referring to the 'dirty hands' nature of the workshop courses.
Upholstery student John Preston, 55, said: "It's heartbreaking. Why move school pupils who only need classrooms into workshops, and try to move the people who need those workshops out into places that don't have the equipment they need?"
Tower Hamlets council could not confirm plans for the centre or where workshop courses would be moved to.