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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, 29 August 2011
The latest from Lloyd Fletcher, Ashton Gate governor
Dear parents and carers,
I’d like to update you on the Bulge class and governors’ longer term views of the primary school places crisis in our area.
Bigger and Better Reception
It’s been heartening to see that parents overwhelmingly support the decision, whilst recognizing the challenges involved. The school is now busy preparing to welcome our three Reception classes in September (from now on we will no longer refer to a “bulge” class!). A large part of this effort involves some modifications to the Infant building, which are scheduled to take place over the summer.
As part of preparing for our larger intake, we are spending about £10,000 on new resources and equipment for all three Reception classes. It has been some years since we were able to invest significant money in Reception, but happily we are now in a financial position to do that. The proportion of these expenses that relate directly to our taking on the extra class will, of course, be funded directly by the Local Authority, as will all the building works.
Expansion and improvement to Old Chapel Park block
As I’ve reported previously, we also need to replace the room space lost by moving a Year 5 class to Old Chapel Park: the temporary block will be extended to provide the meeting and small group space we need.
A side benefit of this will be the provision of more toilets, including a disabled and staff toilet, neither of which we have in Old Chapel Park currently. Given the lead time for specifying and ordering the appropriate temporary unit and the need to go through planning permission, the extension may not be completed until the October break. But we will be able to make do until then.
Making it easier and safer to move around the site
We will also be undertaking work to ease the pressure on foot and buggy traffic through the playground entrances. A ramp will be installed to provide direct access between the Junior and Infant playgrounds. Unfortunately, this will require removing the birch tree that stands by that gate; but we will replace it with a new tree in Old Chapel Park.
With more foot traffic approaching the school, we are hopeful that the improvements to Ashton Gate Road (which some of you may have previewed at the recent Street Party) will help with traffic calming. The current estimate is that this work will take place within the next few months, subject to the Council’s final approvals and scheduling.
But what about the future?
Thinking about the longer term, South Bristol, along with other areas of the city, still faces the problem that there are not enough primary school places for the children forecasted to need them over the next few years and beyond: supply does not meet demand. Our view is that Ashton Gate cannot accommodate a second Reception “bulge” in 2012 unless the physical capacity of our premises is increased. Not only would an additional classroom be required, but pressure on facilities over all would need to be minimized; in particular, the amount of outdoor play space per pupil must not be reduced from what it is now (ideally, we want to increase it!). It is hard to see how this could happen without expanding the school’s site somehow into nearby premises.
Despite the scarcity of free land in our area, there is, in fact, the potential to utilize some nearby property, either in a temporary arrangement or as part of a longer term expansion. Some creative thinking for how this might work is under way, and we are in conversation with Local Authority officers and appropriate experts to explore the options. Obviously we will consult with parents and the wider community when we have something more detailed and specific to discuss.
The political situation
It may be that the Local Authority will decide that expanding Ashton Gate (for the short or long term) is not feasible or affordable, or that another local school is better placed to provide the extra capacity needed, or that an entirely new school should be built in our area (which, by default, must be an academy).
But currently the Authority is unable to make any decisions on major school building or expansion projects beyond this year: the reason is that central government (the Department for Education, or DfE) has not stated what funds will be made available for 2012 and beyond (it was due to decide these last December). In addition, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, intends to centralize the planning of school capital building projects; this would take some decision-making and control away from local authorities. So there remains much uncertainty about how the needed capacity expansion in Bristol will be financed and managed, meaning the Local Authority is simply unable to make any long term commitments at this time.
The risk here, of course, is that in 2012 the city will find itself in exactly the same position as in 2011, i.e. a “capacity crisis”, because it was unable to plan ahead and provision for the additional places. For Ashton Gate, we have been clear with the Local Authority that we cannot take another bulge class unless there is sufficient expansion of our facilities. We are also taking the lead in exploring longer term options that would be right for the school and the community. But the Authority’s ability to respond to that is in large part limited by the lack of clarity on funding from the DfE. Therefore I would certainly encourage concerned parents throughout the city to contact their local MPs and the DfE, as well as maintaining pressure on the Local Authority, in the hope of establishing effective long term solutions for the city and our area of South Bristol. Time is running out to be ready for 2012. Planning for 2013 should be happening now.
Not wanting to end on a gloomy political note, let me wish you all an enjoyable summer. I know the staff are looking forward to welcoming back the children in September and settling in our new, larger Reception year. I will be in touch again in the autumn if and when there is something useful to report or
discuss. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me with questions, concerns or ideas. I’m more than happy to meet in person with parents, or converse by phone or email as is convenient for you.
Chair of Governors
Ashton Gate Primary School
Tel: 0117 922 7838