Olympic medallist Christine Ohuruogu helping sports-specialist south London academy to expand

Christine Ohuruogu, centre, with Arco principal Lisa Miller and entrepreneur George Panayiotou (Handout)
Christine Ohuruogu, centre, with Arco principal Lisa Miller and entrepreneur George Panayiotou (Handout)

Olympic gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu is campaigning for a new site for a sports-specialist south London school that is turning away children due to a lack of space.

Arco Academy is having to turn away around a dozen student referrals a week because it does not have room to expand while operating at the back of Camberwell Leisure Centre.

The academy has become a highly sought after alternative education option for students referred by their schools and local authorities.

Despite learning in small makeshift classrooms, its 60 students have achieved a 100 per cent pass rate for GCSE and vocational qualifications since it was founded in 2017.

Londoner Ohuruogu, who won Olympic gold in the 400m in Beijing in 2008, said: “I have seen what a huge positive impact that the Arco Academy is for these young people. I think it’s great that they are being given first class access to education and sports.

“We all know that sport is great for wellbeing and mental health and I wanted to do what I can to support it and help them find a bigger site so that they can take in more children.”

Many of the students have challenging learning conditions such as ADHD or have left a number of mainstream schools.

At Arco Academy they have daily PE lessons, including rowing, kayaking, sailing, access to therapists, and can take assessments for any unidentified learning needs.

Founder and Principal Lisa Miller, a Commonwealth Games medallist, told the Standard that all pupils have gone on to access further education or employment.

“We’ve had students who have had up to three exclusions, and no mainstream school wanted to take them back.

“They’ve worked with us. They came out with passing all of the GCSEs, went on to further education and then went on to university.”

Ms Miller said bigger classrooms are desperately needed, along with a sports hall, playground and sensory room for children with challenging learning conditions.

“We see what happens to those students and the stats don’t lie. Students who are excluded, over 65 per cent of them end up in jail.

“We can prevent that by providing this early intervention. It’s just a matter of space, it’s quite straightforward.”

The academy is on the hunt for vacant council-owned facilities or unused school buildings it can lease before eventually purchasing a new site, with the help of local government funding.

London property entrepreneur George Panayiotou is in initial talks with local councils and has volunteered to help the academy with a five-year plan.

“The Government is spending so much money on state schools…but I don’t think there is much consideration for these kids that are actually being expelled,” he told the Standard.

“It’s about working with local councils to actually give these children a second chance.

“The immediate issue today is that we’re ultimately inundated with kids that need the place.

“There is a formula here that works, but we need help from the Government and local councils to acknowledge the fact that we need bigger premises.”