How can we best provide more school places?

Primary school at Parsons Street - redevelopmentThe population of Bristol is growing and this has implications for school places – how should Bristol meet this need?

Over the last three years, there has been a 15 per cent rise in the number of children in reception classes at Bristol schools.   This rapid increase in pupil numbers is expected to continue, with a shortfall of at least 3,000 primary school places predicted by 2015 if new places are not created.  The council has been responding by building new schools and expanding existing ones, however, we need to set out a longer term strategy for how the city is going to provide more school places.

With this in mind, we have produced the School Organisation Strategy and would like your views on it and the key issues arising from it.

What is the School Organisation Strategy?

The School Organisation Strategy addresses the implications of this growth until 2015 and identifies things we could do to ensure families have access to school places within the city.   The population growth in the city is not evenly spread leaving spare places in some areas, whilst other areas have too few places to meet rising local need – so the strategy considers where places could be provided / reduced.  It also considers the implications of new homes which have received planning permission.   The proposed actions in the strategy will be reviewed annually and specific schemes agreed based on available funding and population change / growth.

Overall, the strategy will clarify and make public how the council plans to meet rising demand for school and childcare places by developing new and expanded schools and will help with consultation with our citizens and communities.

The council’s has a legal duty to ensure that there are sufficient school places within our area to meet the present and future demands for pupil places; to ensure diversity in the provision of schools; and to ensure that there are increased opportunities for parental choice.  Other legal duties and the radical reforms envisaged for the role of local authorities are set out in the strategy.

Bristol’s rising population

  • There are over 69,000 children aged under 15 registered with GP’s in Bristol
  • The population in Bristol is not evenly distributed. There are smaller numbers of both children and pensioners in some parts of the central areas of the City. The highest proportions of children live in the housing estates on the perimeter of the city centre.  Find out more about the state of the city and population growth
  • Factors affecting population growth include rising birth rates; immigration to Bristol – from within the United Kingdom, European Union and beyond; the building of new homes and also the strength of the city’s economy in attracting people to work here. These are all important factors in understanding our population growth
  • Compared to the rest of the South West region, the population profile of Bristol is relatively young.  There are currently more children under the age of 16 than people of a pensionable age.  This is similar to the national average and that of other Core Cities
  • There is a significant movement of pupils due to parental choice and through local authority placements:  especially where reception places (first year of schooling) does not reflect local demand

How much is it likely to cost to find these new school places?

We predict that it will cost £165.15m to make the changes necessary to meet the need for new school places until 2015.   We have identified funding for 2011-12.  Beyond this, the council is in negotiation with the UK government’s Department for Education, along with other cities in a similar position to Bristol, to identify sources of  funding for these additional places.   We are currently waiting to hear the government’s funding proposals.  There’s more on the financial implications in the strategy.

Key issues for Bristol arising from the draft School Organisation Strategy:

  • The number of places available for very young children (up to the age of 5) in childcare is declining, with the exception of free nursery education for three and four year olds
  • A large shortfall in primary school places is predicted: 3,000 places by 2015.   This will increase to 5,300 places if planned housing development is built
  • This shortfall includes a shortage of 950 places in reception (first year of schooling) by 2015, increasing to 1200 places if planned housing development is built
  • Bristol needs to find the equivalent of 14 primary schools (approx. 2940 places) to meet this demand.  This increases to 25 primary school  (approx. 5250 places) if planned housing development is built
  • The increased demand at primary, not unique to Bristol, is driven by increased immigration, birth rates and the recession causing more families to choose state, rather than private, education
  • Bristol will need to continue to work with schools to find innovative design solutions for new classrooms and flexible use of existing space
  • For many medium and long-term requirements the council will also be liaising with retail developers to help provide new school places
  • Although there are currently surplus secondary school places, there will be a shortfall of Year 7 (secondary) places by 2017
  • Bristol needs to ensure that the current balance of secondary places is maintained to remain viable for the future and to put plans in place to address the potential long-term shortfall
  • It is likely that the Young People’s Learning Agency (a government agency) will permit an academy (and possibly a school) to establish a new sixth form irrespective of whether it is supported by demographic trends but dependent on their capacity to attract learners
  • There has been a small decrease in the number of pupils with Special Educational Needs but the type of provision needs to reflect that more children are diagnosed with autism or severe language communication needs
  • Bristol’s exam results have improved consistently over the last six years.  There is clearly a narrowing gap between Bristol; other local authorities like us; and England’s large cities

We are interested in your ideas on how we can deliver additional primary capacity within the city and would welcome comments and suggestions as to how best to address some of the key issues identified within the School Organisation Strategy: particularly in relation to the longer term trends.


This consultation has now closed.  We’re currently preparing a report of the response to the consultation and the survey which will be reported to the council’s cabinet of leading councillors.  This meeting discussing the latest update of the School Organisation Strategy will be webcast live.  We will update this shortly with details of the meeting and the report.

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About Consultation Team

Ask Bristol from Bristol City Council provides a range of e-participation tools to make it easier for citizens to get involved in local democracy and raise issues with the council. Ask Bristol includes: webcasting; a consultation finder listing all the council's consultation in one place on the web; a wordpress-powered discussion site and online polling and surveys

23 thoughts on “How can we best provide more school places?

  1. If a rising population is a problem then why has Bristol declared itself a Sanctuary City, Wellcomng everyone when it cannot cope with the number of residents already living here

  2. I do not understand why parents whose 3 options are not met are being offered places at schools a restrictive distance away. Talking to parents I have learned that alternatives are offered usually 2 miles away (‘s.e’ below is another example) even when on average there are 6-8 schools closer. Is there no distance staggering? There is open source software out there that can be used to provide logical and fair distance solutions to such problems. But what seems a thoroughly Neanderthal and uncaring approach of Council officers seems based on a ‘lazy’ paper based allocation system, ie, ‘look at a map and see where we can dump them’.
    In the case of my friend, a hard working single mum, she will have to walk a child who will only be 4 in August 2011 2 miles to and from a school damned by Ofsted in an area where he/she knows nobody and with no prospect of the child developing friends he can see after school. She is scared. Her child will be the youngest in his year and at risk of bullying. At just 4 when the school year starts he will already be tired when he reaches school. But Council officers do not care and conveniently lose her pleading letters. In her case her 3 choices have been denied but she has also been denied options at 9 other schools closer to her than the one offered! Crazy. She will probably have to pack in work to find time to walk him to and from school or take him out of education and school him at home, making themselves dependent on benefits. All because the Council officers lack the ability to stagger allocations by distance. She suffers from disabilities and a degenerative disease too, so will be exhausted walking to and from herself – but who at the Council gives a damn.

  3. I would be interested to know if the Council has consolidated the register of all available community assets it holds, these being spread between different departments, and whether the Council now knows all the assets it holds, which was not the case 2 years ago. If they have been consolidated the assets should be made known, transparently, so that those that might use them to develop new schools, either independently or in partnership with the Council, can offer valuable suggestions for the development of new sites. Assuming, of course, assets are in areas of need. A year ago I was told there were over 50 assets to be discharged. Where are they? How many could be utilised for primary school development in areas of population growth? With the potential for schools to be developed as ‘academies’ not all funding would need to come from the Council.

  4. 1. Old Fairfield site.
    2. Old First Bus Depot on Muller Road – build the school at the back with admin offices etc at the front nearest the busy road and have the entrance opposite B&Q utilising the new cycle track bridge?
    3. Old Brooks site.
    4. Compulsory purchase the car exhaust site on the corner opposite the Polish Church.
    5. Compulsory purchase houses on Ashley Down Road in front of Sefton Park School and expand there.
    6. Memorial Ground when Bristol Rovers leave for Stoke Gifford – rather than a supermarket.

    • Having quickly scanned the strategy it seems to be lacking the more radical approaches that I think are needed to sort out this pretty dire situation. 2015 isn’t that far away! The impact of people walking so far to take young children to school is clear from all these other posts – reduced community connection, tired children at school, major impact on parents’ work options, and increased traffic/pollution (be realistic – the most environmental of us will drive if we have to take children even 1km in the wrong direction from work) i.e. this affects all residents of Bristol, not just those with children.

      Given the number of places needed there has to be strategy to buy sites and build schools – and given the lack of sites that could very well mean compulsory purchase. There’s no way out of facing the fact that there aren’t enough school sites and the strategy as presented goes no where near far enough to provide schools where they’re needed.

      Could the Bristol North Baths site – currently proposed as a library/doctors’ surgery – be a school instead? Or maybe our idea of a school needs to change with clusters of small school units located in houses with a shared head and teaching staff?

  5. There are long term plans to utilise St Matthias and Fairfield, as well as a plan to expand St Werburghs but we need school places in this area now, not in 3 -5 years.

    Although porta cabins are not a great long term option it is preferable to children being sent to unsuitable schools and communities being split by having local children being sent to schools outside of their community.

  6. Long term, sustainable solutions will require innovation, political will and leadership. Now that urgent action is under way, the constraints are more to do with lack of finance and scarcity of land/buildings in the right places. And landlords will tend to drive up prices when they “see the Council coming”.

    Pressure needs to be put on private land owners, e.g., persuading businesses that the default option of cramming apartments to maximum density into their surplus office buildings is not the preferred option. Without that, the necessary space cannot be had at an affordable price.

    Expansion of existing, already cramped, sites will require creative thinking; many communities have this on tap — e.g., artists, artisans and architects among parents and others in the local community. Tap into this, rather than going with the “same old” contractual obligations.

    To sum, the major problems are finding affordable new space and also refurbishing existing premises in an imaginative way. Focus activities on these: money, imagination, leadership are essential.

  7. There has been primary school crisis groups in place in bristol since about 2005! The council have seen this coming for years but refused to address it!! I dont think that small primary schools should be forced to be larger than 2 form entry unless they are very large sites otherwise the school community with struggle but it is clear that urgent action is needed for this september and for next year. Temporary classrooms are a really expensive and rubbish alternative to a proper school. I can understand why head teachers are resisting it as what they need is for the council to commit to a proper primary school building program to expand small school to 2 form entry without losing playgrounds / playing fields.
    Creative thinking for using existing buildings in communities. (Sorry I dont believe libraries should close to these serve a much wider community than just school age)

    In my area I cant understand why The Brooks site in St Werburghs remains empty or the old Fairfield site in Montpelier is underused when a primary school could have eased problems in my area

    As someone who has moved to bristol about 5 years ago (yes british but not a local) I find the comments about immigration disgusting. Bristol is a vibrant multicultural city like many european cities thats why people like it!

    Would also like to say that I found the survey for the online strategy to be pointless – was it just done to tick a box?

  8. Clearly we need to agreed some actions on this issue or face being in the same place in future. I would guess that a lot hinges on available cash so that is the first priority, to achieve extensions and new build in a way that doesn’t tie the council to years of expensive PFI projects which offer no additional value to the city.

    Second – there are lots of primary schools which are popular and oversubscribed so it may be useful to see how they can extend to other sites under the same ‘brand’ and management and maybe take over less successful schools – providing they are kept within the LEA structure (if the LEA structure is capable of thinking outside the box that is). This might help to address issues of low demand in certain schools and this must be part of a solution for the city.

    Finally, maybe we would gain a lot as a city if we were to think of stacking up other activities around new school sites so that other activities that added value such as youth work etc could be offered on the same site. This might work better in secondary school campuses (the non PFI ones) and it would help to reduce the overall cost of developing the aite. Dare I say it, but maybe we need to pilot this type if idea and see who else would come in – perhaps it would be worth offering school catering to the organisation that offered to pay for the build of the catering space? As there is probably little in the way of new money, this could go some way in answering my first point. Time to look to the future and forget some of the cherished but unachievable past.

  9. One way to ensure the best use of existing places are used more efficiently would be to allow parents an much longer list of preferred schools and advise them to make use of all their preferences. We have been caught in the reception places ‘black hole’ in BS3 this year, our boy has been offered a place at a school more than two miles walk from home as we didn’t live close enough to our 3 preferred schools. If we had been allowed a much longer list, he would have probably been allocated one of the six schools within a mile of home as it is obvious from the ‘farthest distance’ stats from the less popular local schools that children are traveling from farther afield to get to these schools rather than attend their local schools in Knowle and beyond. If everyone had a long list of preferred schools, hardly anyone would have to travel far to get to school.

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