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.

This entry was posted in Education and early years, School places by Consultation Team. Bookmark the permalink.

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. sorry i am going to be blunt.
    we are one of the families involved in thi c**k up by th council,and we are so so angry that the “system”has failed our son.lets be honest,immigration into bristol plays a huge part in this problem and people are afraid to say it.myself and my husband were born in bedminster/ashton,having now lived here for 45yrs+.we want our son to go to local schools,be brought up in our local community as we did,yet we were offered a place 2miles away from our community,why should immigrants take preference?
    we have both worked bl**dy hard as most of us do to move into a fairly decent area to hopefully give our son the best possible start in life,yet people who have just moved to bristol have had no problems,it makes me livid.
    the council knew this problem would arise years ago yet sat back and did nothing,but add more,apartments,hops etc to the area!

    • Immigration is only one of a number of factors that influence the availability of schools places. The City Council has no control over what international immigration occurs into the City.

      Other factors that have influenced the availability of places include: the popularity of some school over others, the increase in the number of houses that have been converted into flats which are being occupied by families, the increase in the birth rate, and economic factors that have resulted in a slow-down of the movement of people within the city.

      • It is clear that despite the council being ‘legally’ obliged to provide a local school place, they have not fulfilled this. If I did not do my job, there would be serious repercussions. The council have not done theirs. They have known about this for years and insufficient action has been taken. What consequences will THEY face for not doing their job properly?
        Furthermore, what are they actually doing to ensure this does not happen in the future? More temporary classrooms? More parents facing uncertainty and insecurity?

    • Immigration is not much of a factor and shouldn’t be used as a stick to beat minorities or the Council. Indeed, the UK has had more British emigration from than foreign national immigration to the UK since 1945. If people were not allowed to move country we would have had a far larger problem today with over population of indigenous Britons.

  2. A local primary school is an important part of any local community. It is a focus for young parents and a means by which children and parents can get to know each other and support each other in the context of a child’s education. A sense of family and friends gives security to a child and helps them develop their own personality and skills inside and outside the class room.

    The debate about the provision of new buildings in this context is most important.

    Cost is important but not as important as making the right long term decision even though that may appear to be more important today. Good education and social togetherness of families reduces other costs eg policing and welfare costs.

    On this basis consideration ought to be given to primary school buildings as part of a bigger complex which would see GPs surgeries, Government Department public counters, post offices, libraries, day nurseries and the like [including a coffee shop] all brought together with a decent bus service.

    With parents leading busy lives having everything at hand would make their lives easier and thus improve the quality of life for the child as well as being a place where people of all ages would meet.

    One larger complex would be less costly than say five separate buildings. Running costs would probably be less and more effective eg the school library could be part of the general library and young children could get used to a library as a place to go to find out more than could be given in the class room and improve reading skills.

    The point of all this is to say that the lives of busy parents where both parents work should be factored in to decisions as two jobs in a family is a fact of life these days that does affect the way young children have to live.

    A centre such as the one I am proposing could have after school hours provision for children which children might enjoy as well as taking stress off parents in arrangements to collect children.

    So the message is at this stage think much more broadly about children in the family and the community as well as at school.

  3. New thinking might avoid such expensive capital plans. My suggestions are:
    Convert libraries into schools and reduce the footprint of the library component. Councils have no statutory obligation to provide libraries.

    Work with the Anglican Church and other churches and faiths to take over little used or redundant church buildings and convert into schools or agree a dual use of buildings as they tend to use their buildings outside of school hours. Churches are widely located throughout the city.

    If new build is needed look at retail shed style construction with partitions. By using an existing standard design you will keep costs down.

    Embrace Academy Schools and sponsors. Tony Blair founded academies, the Coalition approves of them so get on board if you can. That way others pick up the bills and you might access central government cash if there is any.

  4. 2 cheap suggestions
    (1) Allow classroom places to rise and fall as waves of population occur at different ages.

    (2) Don’t sell off schools again when class sizes fall like the council did in the 80’s and 90’s

  5. perhaps for a trial period, could our secondary schools consider looking at the possibility of merging or working with any local oversubscibed primary schools and organize turning an area of the secondary school over to primary teaching until such time as the children become eligible for secondary school education ?

  6. Additionally to my previous post the council should attempt in procurement for primary school architects and contractors to work on more than one school wth the same contractor to try and achieve economies of scale.

    In terms of school sizes I also believe that the best performing schools are those that are small so I would be reluctant and most disappointed to see any primary school created or expand with more than a yeargroup intake of 60 the equivalent to two classes. so a 210 space or 420 space primary school in my opinion should not be exxceeded in order to maintain a healthy pupil/community ratio in which children can thrive.

  7. You should have built schools big enough to cope with demand fluctuations. If you cant afford to build enough school places to cope with demand fluctuations then you need to find a better solution than portacabins. Why not work with the private sector to take up some of their surplus places. Perhaps go into partnership with them to purchase excess places at a discount? Filling portacabins with surplus pupils on existing schools is an unacceptable solution. You wont be putting my kids in a portacabin.

    It isnt rocket science that private schools will be less busy in a recession. Everyone knew there was a recession coming. Why not the City Council?

    Why did you not know how many people had been born and were living in the city. Most of them have been here for 4 years by the time you need to find them a primary place. Surely health visitors, hospitals and preschools have this information to help you.

    The rest of the places you did not predict will be for eastern europeans no doubt. Another reason why we should close our borders im afraid. If children in Southville cannot get a primary school place because there are lots of Polish and Ukranian children getting them first then something needs to be done about that.

  8. Additional Primary school places should be provided for in the areas where they are required most. If as stated those areas are peripheral areas then they should be built in these locations. With south Bristol expected in the COre strategy to be the focus of most new housing development over the next few years then it would make sense for these developments to contribute through s10g agreements to the provision of new primary schools in these areas. The council should also consider the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy which can be used in tandem with s106’s and not instead of. My understanding is there have also previously been s106 agreements secured for school places provision and that this remains unspent. This should be utilised urgently towards a primary school in the North of the city where the situation is already acute. In terms of land as has been previously suggested there is an excess in some areas of open space provision particularly in the peripheral areas of the city then some of this land could/should be used for primary schools.- it would also be relatively cheap considering most of this land is council owned.

    Im not particularly a fan of free schools or academies but as these are what is on offer at the moment these options should also be considered along with faith schools.

    In some areas of Bristol that are heavily built up the council should look to learn from some continental schools such as in the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, where existing buildings have been refurbished to accomodate school. There is also precedents here in the uk for urban primary schools eg Hampden Gurney COF E in Westminster, where space is limited.

  9. I’ve never given any thought to this before but now that the question has been asked I’d suggest the following:

    Where possible rebuild sections of existing primary schools in stages over a 10 year project. All existing schools where the population around them has the highest demand should see buildings with up to five floors, a basement floor, grand floor and three higher floors with new halls and conferencing centres on the lower levels.
    Space is key to the new designs so innovation is required to put Bristol at the forefront of change, making use of space and offering three times more for less!

    Existing parks and open spaces need to be used as Friends of the local parks scheme joins forces with education provision. Library services linked with schools and an extra-curricular programme implemented so that local universities and secondary schools play a greater role in assisting primary education and provision.

    Community centres rebuilt and used as outreach centres to play a bigger role in connecting people and places and places of worship which are empty in the day used as multi-media centres to watch documentaries, alternative lecture theatres and guest speaking rooms for an alternative teaching method in moving with modern use of technology and space.

    This doesn’t have to be a real concern, it is actually a very exiting situation to be in and a very creative way to deal with it so that the suburbs of Bristol are linked, involved and embraced by a new way of educational learning and movements. To build education links around change and keep spending minimal can see all young people enjoying the journey and playing a role in their own future.

  10. Why not explore using spare capacity in the private sector as an alternative to incurring large capital costs in putting in temporary structures, or new builds. There are other ways of providing for people’s educational needs which this reports hasn’t considered. The council could also put out to tender the requirement to provide education in order to get the extra provision it requires. That way, when it isn’t needed, the council can terminate the contract at an appropriate break point.

Comments are closed.