Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Questions about Bristol's Cathedral Primary School...

A number of questions have arisen since I started to look into the problems with an assertion by the Mayor of Bristol that the Cathedral Primary School move in to the office and storage space of the Central Library was "needed" in the center of the city.

The following are things that I feel that the school, the Mayor and councillors, should be addressing to you in order to prove that this is indeed something that must happen.

1. Can the books be stored anywhere?

One main argument about taking the space in the Central Library is that the books can go elsewhere. It's obvious that converting a space the public already owns is cheaper than the council having to buy/rent space from somewhere else...but where are these books going to go? They are resources that people request at the Central Library, so they can't be too far away to not be obtainable, they can't be stored in a way that makes it hard to access on a daily basis.

Answer? It's not really official, since "officially" this plan hasn't been approved yet, but the likely space that they wish to use is around Cumberland Basin, unfortunately not the most accessible location.

2. What is the cost of storing books elsewhere?

There would be a capital or rental cost to extending the Cathedral Primary school from 30 students to 60. (remember going forward that this is servicing less than 1% of the total shortfall of first choice primary places in Bristol), but there must also be costs to entertain external storage of resources from the Library. What are the plans here? What is the rental cost for the space? What of different and additional security? What about systems that may need to be introduced in order to "book" or "schedule" access to these resources? Is there an additional staffing cost involved? What about the cost of transport between the Central Library and the new storage location?

Essentially the question is this...where are the figures about the associated costs with this move if it goes ahead, where is the comparison between this outcome and that of renting/buying space specifically for the purpose of a primary school?

3. Why does it have to be in the Library?

Financial costs aside, and they aren't the whole picture when we are talking about providing a public space to a formerly private school, and the future possibilities of contention that creates if legislation changes in the future to make this school wish to turn private once more...why in the Library? The rhetoric has been presented as if this is the only choice for expansion of primary school spaces in Bristol. As I said above, the mayor alluded to it needing to be in the location because of hyper-local demand, something I feel I've debunked as a stance

In fact the school itself has said that it isn't looking to just students in the central area, but city wide. Now, if the scope of admissions for the school is so wide, we have to ask again why it is that the Library must be the place that gives over it's space! It's especially more relevant since the costs of renting or buying space will improve when considering an area further from Cabot.

I ask the question that, if the resources are best placed in the Library, accessible in the largest possible way at that location...and if the largest need for further school places is in North Bristol (edit: According to where families are trying to get places most), then why must we move the storage...creating delays in accessing material, or more likely making the material less accessible for those that rely on public transport, when the pressing need isn't to extend an already large and succesful school around 4 miles away from 2000+ children who's parents would appreciate a few schools on their doorstep?

4. Just how used is the book storage?

A particularly crass and childish argument was put forward by the school's twitter account:

Aside from this continuing a nonsense avenue of discussion that pits the virtues of books vs the virtues of child education, it has opened up the question of just how much are the resources used?

Sure, some things may have been viewed only once in 30 years...but what percentage have been viewed in the last 5 years? 1 year? 1 week?

Given the school is only going to "solve" less than 1% of the shortage of first choice places in Bristol, is it fair to argue that as long as 1% of the resources are used in the last year that they are, in fact, more relevant to Bristol's needs at this time?

It's not fair, but this is an interesting question, especially for highlighting puerile techniques for arguing your case...

5. If the applications can be made city wide for this school, does that include outside of Bristol?

Now this is unverified, but if true then this school may not even help the problem with a shortage of Bristol primary school places at all! Is this school taking a Bristol public space away and not even ensuring the space is solely available for those children in Bristol that are having trouble finding the right school?!

Answer: Yes, schools outside of Bristol will be about to apply to come to the primary school, however if they are over-subscribed the places must be fulfilled within, generally, the BS postcode area. This means that families from South Gloucestershire and North Somerset will be able to get into the school still.

6. Does the school have a plan for families in poverty?

It's all well and good to say that you're happy to take admissions from anyone and anywhere, but that's only noble if you ignore that logistics. The North of Bristol contains almost 50% of all the children that don't get their first choice place at a primary school, an area that takes anywhere from 40 minutes to 1 hour to travel from to get to the center. If families want to access this school and all of the benefits that may or may not come from it, can they necessarily afford to make that journey every day? Is a 2 hour commute something that we can realistically expect parents in these areas so far away to desire to do?

It's all well and good saying you'll take anyone in, but don't pretend that you don't know that the only people that'll be able to do so have the time and money to do so.

So does the school plan to provide transport? Or perhaps some form of bursary for families that deserve just as equal access but clearly won't be able to afford the regular travel?

If you have any other questions you think should be asked, get in touch, I'll stick them on the end of this list!

Read my past article on the real needs for primary school places in Bristol here.

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