A school, whose strapline is ‘where everything’s possible’ has upset parents after they found out this month that ‘everything’s possible’ except GCSEs.
Families whose children attend Venturers Academy, approached us after they found out that their children will not be taking GCSE exams in a year’s time as expected. Instead, pupils are only being offered a range of Functional Skills Level 1 or 2 and entry level qualifications.
“I’m worried I’m now going to have to find another school,” Carole* told us. “I thought my child would be able to stay here and take GCSEs. That was our plan all along. Now we might have to find another place to go at the very last minute. I’ve been in tears over it. My child is also upset because they don’t even have the subject he was hoping to take. I don’t know what to do or where to turn.”
The families recently attended a parent information evening where they were informed of the school’s plan for year 10 and 11. A PowerPoint presentation – which we have seen – showed pupils would be offered courses that involved entry level pathways and no GCSEs.
The presentation says: ‘In addition, students leave with a “passport” of qualifications which allow them to demonstrate their abilities at a nationally recognised level, and that will gain access to post 16 courses.
‘VA is acutely aware of the way in which our students learn, and the pathways that are now in existence. We choose the most appropriate level of qualification – both in terms of the students and the next steps they will take.’
Emma* said: “The school should have been much clearer way before now that GCSEs were never going to happen. It shouldn’t be coming as a surprise. Other schools that are similar to Venturers offer a range of GCSEs so it’s confusing why that’s not happening here. The kids all have EHCPs and the school goes on about how wonderful they are about doing these wonderful things in their wonderful building. But they’re not taking their needs into consideration here. Are they?”
The school is part of Venturers Trust, a multi-academy trust in Bristol which is sponsored by the Society of Merchant Venturers and the University of Bristol.
The school prospectus says: ‘Venturers’ Academy is committed to providing a high quality, challenging and relevant education for each one of our students. This extends to our most able and talented students who are stretched and developed as part of our extensive More Able Students programme. Students are not only accelerated in the curriculum but are also presented with a range of exciting opportunities ranging from Enterprise events, debating competitions and an extensive
variety of visits and trips, both regionally and internationally.’
In an update to Bristol Schools Forum in March 2022, former Director of Education, Alison Hurley talked forum members through the specialist provision expansion project.
According to Hurley’s presentation slides, from the academic year 2021/22 until September 2023, Venturers Academy was expanding by 50 places as part of the Phase 1 Specialist Provision expansion project.
The phase 2 of the projected listed Venturers Academy alone as increasing another 20 places to make up the shortfall to the 450 promised extra specialist school places.
And an additional 8 places were created for children at Venturers Academy as part of a ‘capacity increase’.
The school, which now has over 200 pupils, is one of the main autism specialist settings in Bristol, “yet our children aren’t able to take GCSEs like other specialists locally,” Emma said.
In April 2021, pupils at Venturers Academy moved from a series of temporary school buildings and a Scout hut, into a new premises alongside Merchants’ Academy Primary and Merchants’ Academy Secondary.
The school originally opened in 2016 in the former Gay Elms Primary School with just 50 pupils, before expanding into a second site for primary provision within the Kingfisher School in St Anne’s Park. The school now sits across three locations, including the former premises which is set to become another new school site.
In September 2021, a post-16 provision for pupils with highly complex needs opened at the school. But at the information evening, families of pupils wishing to pursue academic qualifications were instead given a list of mostly mainstream post-16 colleges across the region – which we have seen.
The Venturers Trust say on their website that: ‘Venturers’ Academy provides an outstanding, personalised and challenging education, where students aspire to, and attain, the highest levels of achievement both academically and socially, where each and every student thrives and where everything’s possible.’
* We have changed the parents’ names to protect their identities