A ‘challenging budget’ and half empty school rolls is behind a consultation for two central Bristol schools to merge into one.
St George Church of England Primary School on Queens Parade BS1, will be merging with St. Michael’s on the Mount C of E (VC) Primary School on Park Lane BS2, 0.6 miles away.
The two schools had recently formed a federation, but the budget issues as a result of ‘falling pupil numbers’ means that neither school will be able to deliver a balanced budget for the next 5 years.
Both schools have had three headteachers since July 2018, after long-term head Stuart McClelland took over the then beleaguered Luckwell School in Bedminster. Since then, the schools have had interim head Margaret Gwynne and current head Chris Larke-Phillips.
The current number of pupils on roll at St George is 62, meaning the school is only 59 per cent full. St Michael’s has 120 pupils, filling just 57 per cent of places.
After meetings with both the Local Authority and the Diocese of Bristol throughout 2019, the federated schools’ governing body have decided to create one single form entry school based at St Michael’s, which features the larger school site. Both schools will retain their ‘Christian distinctiveness, history and character’.
Parents and carers are currently being consulted about both schools’ futures with three possible options. The first option is to close both schools and open a new one for 210 pupils on the St Michael’s on the Mount site. The second option is to close St George and offer children places at St Michael’s. The third option is to continue the Federation but only use the St Michael’s site.
The schools’ governing body’s preference is to close both schools and amalgamate them into a new school at St Michael’s. This would see the new school open on 01 September 2020 with a new name, a new logo and a new school uniform. St George’s deficit budget would not be carried over to the new proposed school. It has not yet been ruled out that once amalgamated, the school could apply for academy status and apply to join a Multi Academy Trust.
Amalgamation means an uncertain future for school staff. If it happens, all staff will be required to apply for the new jobs.
A series of Frequently Asked Questions surrounding the consultation states that there are ‘too few’ children in the communities to fill the school places, with the LA advising that there is ‘no prospect of sufficient children arriving (or being born) in time to reverse this’.
According to Bristol City Council admission statistics, in January 2019, St Michael’s had 31 on time applications for 15 Planned Admission Number places. St George had 22 applications for 15 places.
In contrast, nearby Cathedral Primary School had 291 applications for 60 places, St Peter and St Paul RC Primary School had 65 applications for 30 places, Cotham Gardens had 150 applications for 90 places, The Dolphin 116 applications for 60 places and Hotwells Primary School had 55 applications for 30 places.
According to Bristol City Council’s The Population of Bristol, November 2019, the total population of Bristol is projected to increase by 95,100 people over the 25 year period (2016-2041) to reach a total population of 551,100 by 2041.
This statistic is behind Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees’ aim to create more housing in Bristol which is based centrally, denser and higher.
Statistics in the report shows there are more children living in Bristol than people aged 65, with Bristol’s 85,700 children making up almost 18.5 per cent of the total population. Mid-2018 ward population estimates according to the ONS Small Area Population Estimates, puts 1,200 children in Central Ward alone.
Although the number of births is falling, between 2008 and 2019, the number of children living in Bristol increased by 16.5 per cent – or 12,100. This was significantly higher than the England and Wales average of 8.6 per cent. The biggest increase was seen in the number of primary school aged children aged 4-10 years of age which increased by 29 per cent over the decade.
The predicted ‘bulge’ year of primary school places saw the development of new schools – including Cathedral Primary – and the introduction of temporary additional form intakes to cope with the demand.
This has left St George and St Michael’s vulnerable due to their ‘smaller than one-form entry’ the governing body claims. The school also blames the increase of student accommodation and new housing developments which they say have ‘not attracted families’.
The schools have already implemented ‘all options for saving costs’ including sharing a headteacher and combing year groups to share teachers. It states that is has ‘not’ been able to find ‘other savings’ sufficient to keep both schools sustainable.
They say the benefits of proceeding with amalgamation would create ‘increased opportunity’ for children being taught in single year classes, improved financial security and the continuing offer of a ‘diverse’ school with a ‘strong Christian ethos’ which will prove a ‘high standard of education’.
‘We believe it is a necessity to ensure that an excellent, inclusive and nurturing education is available to children who live in the centre of the city,’ they state.
The main St George’s school is owned by Bristol City Council and the annex by the Diocese of Bristol. There is no guarantee that the council owned building would remain in use for the purpose of education once St George school no longer uses it.
The school is currently in the midst of its formal 6 weeks consultation period, with a final report due on 10 December 2019.
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