Secondary school: Families applying for places which ‘literally don’t exist’

‘This should be of great concern to us all’
Concerns over school places in Bristol Concerns over school places in Bristol
Concerns over school places in Bristol

Parents of Bristol children starting secondary school next year are applying for places that “literally do not exist”, opposition councillors warn.

The Green group fears that the local authority could fail in its “fundamental legal duty” to give youngsters an education because it has not yet addressed a desperate shortage of Year 7 spaces despite saying it would by now.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Bristol City Council, however, says more time has been needed to be certain of cost and practical implications because the issue is so complex and that a cabinet decision is now due in February, giving enough time to get the school places ready by next September.

Figures released by the authority in the summer showed there were 291 more pupils in the city due to start secondary school in September 2021 than places available, and that this was expected to soar to 515 within three years.

Schools are taking more than their official maximum number of children while some students are being sent to South Gloucestershire for lessons, the first time this has had to happen, as the council meets its legal requirement to provide a place for every Bristol youngster.

The situation is further compounded by delays to two large new Department for Education (DfE) secondary schools in Bristol for a total of 2,500 kids.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Southville councillor Christine Townsend told a recent council meeting that, according to the local authority’s education director in July, a decision would go to cabinet in October or November this year to allocate a new capital grant for Year 7 mainstream and SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) spaces.

But the Green councillor said no such agenda papers were going to cabinet for the rest of 2021.

“This should be of great concern to us all,” she told the overview and scrutiny management board on Monday, October 18.

“Families with children in Year 6 are currently applying for Year 7 school places that literally do not exist and, as far as we are aware, are not being planned for, putting the council in a risk position of not being able to fulfil a most fundamental legal duty for our city’s children, the universal service of education.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Those currently with an EHCP (Education and Health Care Plan) or being assessed for an EHCP that might need a special school place are also in the same position – these families are also living with the uncertainty of not knowing where, or if, their child might be able to access a place that can fully cater for their needs.

“While the responsibility for ensuring school place sufficiency and communication of such sufficiency is entirely the responsibility of the [Labour] administration, I stand before you today to officially put on record the concerns of the Green Party councillors regarding this statutory issue.

“The current position places additional uncertainty and anxiety onto families.”

In a written reply to councillor Townsend, the council said: “The November and December cabinet dates were a target to seek approval to allocate basic need funding to SEND capital projects and ‘bulge expansions’ for Year 7 students.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“This decision is needed due to delays to the new DfE secondary schools in the city.

“The complexity of identifying how bulge classes can be introduced and the impact of a very volatile construction market on anticipated costs for projects has meant that sufficient confidence in budget has not been available to enable cabinet to make a decision.

“Confidence in cost is now being secured allowing the decision to enter the decision pathway with a February cabinet date the expected outcome.

“Timelines for delivery show there is sufficient time to meet the bulge requirements for September 2022 and would allow immediate mobilisation in February for the next SEND capital projects.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The location of schools that will have bulge classes will be communicated as soon as possible.”

Knowle Oasis secondary school was due to open in September 2023 for 900 pupils but the DfE told the council a few months ago that it had been delayed by a year, blaming “unavoidable delays and risks” to planning and construction, although it would explore opening in temporary accommodation in 2023.

And the fate of the 1,600-place Oasis Temple Quarter Academy, for children in Lawrence Hill, Barton Hill and other parts of east Bristol, is set to be decided by the local government secretary.

Planning permission was granted by the council last year as part of a large development in Silverthorne Lane near the Feeder Canal but the decision has been called in by Whitehall because the Environment Agency has concerns over flooding.

A public inquiry will last at least six months and, even if it gets the go-ahead, the school will not open until 2024 at the earliest, six years later than originally planned.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.