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SCHOOL CLOSURES: Three small Bristol schools to close despite desperate pleas from parents

SCHOOL CLOSURES: Three small Bristol schools to close despite desperate pleas from parents

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Three small Bristol schools are to close despite parents’ desperate pleas for the city council’s elected leaders to change their minds over the plans.

The council’s ruling Labour administration has agreed to the closure of St Pius X Catholic Primary School in south Bristol, and St George’s and St Michael’s Church of England primary schools in the city centre, because of falling pupil numbers.

It plans to open a new school on the site of the St Michael’s on the Mount school on September 1 as a replacement for the two CoE primary schools, but pupils at St Pius will have to find a new school to go to.

The closure plans, approved by Bristol City Council cabinet members last night (February 25), were proposed by the governors of all three schools and the subject of public consultations and a parent campaign last year.

If they are backed by the Department for Education, the plans will see all three schools close on August 31 this year.

Cabinet member for education, Cllr Anna Keen, said the “difficult” decisions made her feel “incredibly sad” as a teacher herself, but were necessary to ensure the schools on offer in the city were financially viable and “fit for purpose”.

“It’s not a day of glory for education in Bristol,” she admitted at last night’s meeting.

Cllr Keen said St Pius, a one-form entry primary school in Withywood, has struggled both in terms of pupil numbers and quality of education, having been in special measures for more than two and a half years.

St George’s and St Michael’s on the other hand, were “good schools”, but between them had fewer than 150 pupils on the books and 185 spare places, she said.

The new amalgamated school would have 210 places so would be able to take all 150 children and more, giving it a “good chance” of surviving financially.

But parents of St George pupils, upset by the closure of the “special” little school, said the process had been “mismanaged” from the start.

Kayleigh Mossop, parent chair of the PTA at the school, said parents had been “excluded”, teachers had “had their hands tied”, and the governors’ wish to close the school had prompted an exodus of pupils which had only worsened the school’s prospects.

“Our little school is such a special place in the community,” Ms Mossop said. “It is not just about figures on a document.

“Please make the right decision.”

John Mossop said parents who found the closure of St George “disappointing” would not necessarily send their children to the proposed new school.

He said the council could have spent more of its education budget to keep the school going and that it and the governors should have done more to “promote” it to parents.

But Cllr Keen told him the council already struggled to stay within the schools budget and that it would be “unethical” for it to promote one school over another.

The Government opened a free school, Cathedral Primary School, on St George’s “doorstep” and this no doubt contributed to the existing primary school’s demise, the meeting heard.

Education campaigner Jen Smith, who is a Liberal Democrat candidate for Bristol Central ward in May’s council elections, asked how the Labour group could “reconcile” closing three schools while so much additional housing was planned in the city.

Cllr Keen said government funding for schools was based on existing pupil numbers, not projections of future demand for places.

“It’s a lovely idea but… we don’t have a bank of money for children that currently don’t exist and might at some point move into the city,” she said.

Words: Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporter

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