South Bristol Schools Crisis

Offers for primary school places have been made for September 2014 and we are delighted that the local schools were able to accommodate all children living in the area. Many families got their first choice. Thank you to the Council and schools for their hard work.

The area now has sufficient reception places for all the children in the area. There has been strong support from the Council, with the acquisition of land for Ashton Gate and Southville to expand, and from the local schools which have expanded or taken on "bulge" classes when needed. There are also plans to create a new school on the caravan site near Spike Island, which should increase choice for BS3 families and help with the lack of places in the Hotwells and Clifton Wood areas.

We continue to monitor these developments and keep the community informed.


South Bristol Schools Campaign is a community-led group initially formed when there was a lack of local school places in BS3. It seems that long term solutions are now in place, so our role will now be limited to liaising with schools and the Council to ensure the delivery of promised new places and new sites, and to share information with the local community.


For the latest information, join the mailing list - this will allow the campaign group to quickly and easily inform and keep track of all those concerned.

You can also email the campaign group: southbristolsc@gmail.com

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Meeting Report

Here are the full minutes of the meeting held with the Council last week.

Meeting at Council Offices regarding

School Situation in South Bristol, particularly BS3

10 May 2011, 2.30 pm

Minutes

Present from BS3: Lottie Storey, Melanie Osborne, Alex Rogers

Present from Council: Craig Bolt, Clare Campion-Smith, Chris Brown

(a) Introductions.

Lottie, Mel and Alex introduced themselves and explained they were parents of children directly affected by the shortage of primary school places for this September. Craig Bolt and Clare Campion-Smith explained their positions and responsibilities. Craig Bolt is Service Director – Education Strategy and Targeted Support. He has responsibility for the school admissions and for providing solutions to the shortage of school spaces in Bristol. Clare Campion-Smith is an elected councillor, and the Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People. Chris Brown is a senior civil servant simply present at the meeting in an observational capacity.

(b) Council's view of problem.

Alex asked quite how severe the Council considered the current problem to be.

Craig explained the wider context of the problem in that across Bristol in September 2011 there are about 1000 more children than in 2007. Over the next 5 years, the shortfall in primary school places could be 3000 or more, if current capacity is not expanded. The details are laid out in a document called ‘School Organisation Strategy’ (click for link to this document).

Craig explained that, this year, in the Southville area, there are about 20 children directly affected by the shortage in reception places for September 2011, and a further 9 in the Greater Bedminster area (all these children having been allocated schools outside of BS3 and at none of their preferred schools). With this in mind, the Council explained that they do view the situation very seriously and did see it as an issue that ideally needs resolving by September 2011.

Craig then went through details for various schools, explaining some of the potential difficulties e.g. lack of space on their current site, preventing expansion. He clarified that any solution will require the cooperation and agreement of the school concerned.

Mel asked how long ago the Council had started planning for the boom in reception class places. Craig explained that a review had started in earnest in Summer 2010, with various consultations taking place, resulting in the above-named School Organisation Strategy being published in March this year.

(c) Report from Tobacco Factory meeting.

Lottie, Mel and Alex conveyed the views of parents expressed at the Tobacco Factory Meeting, which was attended by about 50 people. They explained the initial disbelief at receiving the offer letter: most people thought it a mistake as they hadn’t heard of the school allocated. They explained the resulting confusion, anger and frustration of the parents at realising that this was, in fact, the ‘correct’ allocation from the Council. They despaired at not being able to speak to anyone at the Council when they called, and were frustrated at just hearing recorded messages on voicemails.

Some of the practical difficulties for parents taking their children to school were explained, including, for instance, having to work reduced hours (if this is allowed by their line managers!) to complete the school run, co-ordinating shift work, and trying to arrange childcare for younger siblings, and, perhaps most importantly, the difficulty in trying to get a four-year-old to walk two miles or more twice a day. The detrimental effects on the children were also explained, such as feeling exhausted at school resulting in an inability to concentrate, and not having school friends in the local area. There was also concern at the lack of ‘wrap-around’ childcare at some of the schools allocated.

Mel and Lottie explained the divisive effect the situation might have on the local area and how it would undermine social cohesion. Alex also indicated that, even if parents could ferry their children to school by car or bus, this seemed to contradict the aim of the council to reduce cars on the road and decrease emissions.

Alex explained that the parents were generally pleased that the local councillors such as Sean Beynon, Mark Bradshaw, Tess Green and Colin Smith gave up their time on a Bank Holiday to come and listen to the parents and offered their support. Additionally, parents were pleased to have been contacted by Sean Beynon by letter in the days following the school allocation announcements.

(d) The group of parents affected.

We explained that the group of parents affected were very committed to the local area and all wished simply for their child to go to a local school. As a group we are willing to offer any help we possibly can to the process. However, feeling among the parents about the current schools situation was very strong: no-one viewed a lack of solution by September 2011 as an acceptable outcome.

(e) Council’s suggestions of feasible solutions.

Craig explained that talks were already underway, but that he could not disclose either with whom these talks were taking place, nor the nature of the solutions being considered. The reason for this was that the talks are sensitive and would not wish them to be undermined in any way by premature disclosure.

Craig clarified that the School Organisation strategy includes a £500K figure allocated to emergency provision for September 2011 - this has been approved by the Council's Cabinet and can be actioned fast (as long as a school agrees to extra provision). Craig confirmed he has responsibility for allocation of this fund.

In a discussion on the ‘preference’ system, Craig's clarified that Bristol does not operate a 'choice-based' system as such, and that choice only comes in when there is spare capacity in the schools. In the absence of spare capacity, the allocations are made on the basis of the priorities in published admissions criteria. He also discussed the lack of formal catchment areas, and that there have been discussions within the Council around current system vs catchments, but that his personal view was catchments simply shift problems around. Instead they need to 'increase the size of the cake before deciding how to cut it'.

(f) Parents’ suggestions of practical solutions.

Lottie, Mel and Alex wished to convey some of the ideas that had occurred to parents in the area. This was just in case similar ideas had not occurred to the Council. These were:

  • Compass Point/South Street: This used to be a two-class intake school but is now a single-class intake school due to decreased numbers in past years. It is understood that there is currently a free classroom that could be used for a Reception class in September 2011. It is understood that some of the other classrooms that are being used for other facilities, which need not be in school environment – it was suggested that, long-term, the Council could look at turning Compass Point back into a two-intake school and possibly rehousing the other facilities, either on the school site or other suitable buildings within the area. An aerial view of the school was shown – it clearly has a lot of land, some of which could be considered for new buildings. Craig made a point that building on school fields can encounter objections, e.g. from Sport England.
  • Southville Centre: This is an old school building on Beauley Road which is currently used as a community centre, and houses First Steps Nursery. It was suggested that the Council could look at whether space was available for a Reception Class for September 2011 although it is appreciated that this may only be a temporary measure.
  • Luckwell School: There seems to be unused Council-owned land immediately next to the school which could be used to house a class attached to Luckwell Primary
  • Greville Smyth Park site: There is an undeveloped site opposite the entrance to Ashton Gate Stadium which could be looked at for future school provision
  • Disused/derelict building on Lydstep terrace, facing Dame Emily Park: this site could be looked at for future school provision.

The Council could not comment on the feasibility of any of these suggestions.

(g) Questions from other worried parents in S. Bristol.

The Council was handed a list of questions from worried parents in the area. Craig Bolt indicated that he would email Lottie with answers to these questions in due course.

(h) Taking this forward.

Alex asked for two undertakings from the Council.

  1. To write to all parents affected in BS3 to reassure them that the Council was taking the problem very seriously and was trying to find a solution for September 2011.
  2. To attend a public meeting in the next month or so to give an update to parents.

Craig agreed to point 1, on the proviso that Alex/Lottie/Mel provided him with a list of people to whom letters should be sent directly. The Council were also happy for a general letter to be posted online, so parents in the area for whom Alex/Lottie/Mel did not have details could also read it. Craig also agreed to point 2, on the proviso that he would attend once a solution had been found.

(i) Any other business.

None

Meeting concluded.

2 comments:

  1. These teaching jobs just got advertised for Ashton Gate.

    http://www.eteach.com/Job.aspx?VacNo=383974

    Perhaps something is getting done?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear parents and carers,
    The Ashton Gate chair of governors just sent this to all Ashton Gate parents - good news for 2011 I think!

    As I'm sure you are aware, Bristol has a significant shortage of primary school places for children starting
    Reception in September 2011. Many families in our area (Southville and Bedminster) have been unable
    to obtain places at their local schools. To help deal with this crisis, Bristol City Council has asked Ashton
    Gate and another school in our area if we would be willing to take an additional Reception class of 30
    children in September. This "bulge" class would stay with us until it reaches Year 6, i.e., in September
    2012 the "bulge" moves to Year 1, and in 2013 to Year 2, and so on. This new class would be fully
    funded by the local authority in its first year, regardless of whether all 30 places are taken up, and the
    additional cost of setting up this new class (e.g., supplies, furniture, building works) would be met by
    one-off funding.
    School governors discussed this proposal with council officers at our Full Governing Body meeting last
    night (Tuesday 24th May). After extensive and detailed debate, governors voted unanimously to accept
    the local authority's proposal, in an effort to play our part in helping to reduce this stressful situation in
    our local community. Governors and school senior management are confident that we can accommodate
    this additional class without any negative effect on our high standards of teaching and learning at Ashton
    Gate.
    There is, of course, still a long term problem which the local authority must deal with, i.e., the provision
    of sufficient school places in Bristol for September 2012 and beyond. This will not be easy, given the
    severe constraints imposed by central government on the funding available for school buildings; this is
    made worse by the scarcity of sites for possible expansion of school premises, especially in our area of
    south Bristol. Nevertheless, Ashton Gate governors are committed to working with the local authority to
    contribute to a long term solution that can both bring about the necessary school capacity and ensure
    Ashton Gate continues to provide the best possible educational environment for our children. We will, of
    course, keep parents informed as any plans develop.
    There is much work to be done to set up the new class in time for the next school year. And while things
    will move forward quickly now, parents who are still seeking places at their preferred schools should
    continue to work through the appropriate Admissions channels at the local authority to ensure their
    needs are met: we will be happy to welcome 30 more children to Reception in September, but the unmet
    demand for places at Ashton Gate was much higher than that. The wider problem has not yet gone
    away.
    If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me via the email address below
    or through the school office.
    --Lloyd
    Lloyd Fletcher
    Chair of Governors
    Ashton Gate Primary School

    ReplyDelete