Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Primary School Admissions: A school in a library?

This is the tweet yesterday from the Bristol Mayor that alerted me to a little storm brewing over the future of Primary School provision.

The plan in Bristol is to take one of our oldest public amenities, the Central Library, and gut two floors to allow a Secondary School to create a Primary School in the center of the city. But don't worry, all we're talking about here is losing office space and centuries of history in order to accommodate a school that was up until 5 years ago a private, fee-paying, school!

Sarcasm aside, of course on the surface it seems "harmless" enough. Peel away the "Children are more important than where books are stored" rhetoric, playing on the Simpsons-esque "Somebody think of the children!" style of emotional blackmail and it seems perhaps sensible that we just move books away from the library that they service. As George says, books can be stored anywhere?

Indeed it's true, just like hospital medication can be stored somewhere different than an A&E department, and fire engines somewhere other than a fire station.

But is it really *necessary* that we take the steps towards moving the ownership of one of our oldest public buildings out of the hands of the public and into the murky grey waters of an Academy?

Edit: The Primary School responds (sort of) to this blog article...

So, it would seem that it is *not* necessary to take space from the Central Library. The school isn't aiming to take students specifically from the center of Bristol, it is not due to any essence of demand (read below) that the Bristol Mayor alluded to. If students are coming from anywhere and everywhere, then it means the school doesn't need to be so specifically sited...except to increase the "saleability" of the school as a prestigious one perhaps? It's an interesting statement none the less...
End edit

One thing that has bugged me all night is this idea that the city center is crying out for primary school places, and that the library is the only place that can readily deal with this "demand". I can't answer about the potential sites, I am fully aware that the library is probably the cheapest option (though there has been little talk of the cost of transporting, preserving and storing these books at a different site, let alone the cost of accessing them on request), but cheap rarely means best.

No, the thing that I'm going to focus on is whether our council's focus, and their money...our money...really needs to be heading to the College Green.

I want to first show you an image, just to colour the debate slightly...

Source: http://bristolchildren.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/child-poverty-in-bristol/

Now, the data is going to be somewhat out of date, probably (hopefully?) slightly improved on the 2007 levels...but they are likely to be proportionally similar to now.

Look at the red...these are areas where families have the least money, where cost of travel and transport has a greater effect of the living standards of children, and where there is likely to be a need for a stronger educational stability (in my opinion)

Hillfields, Easton, Frome Vale, Ashley, Southmead, Filwood, Avonmouth, Kingsweston, Hartcliffe, and even parts of Southville and Windmill Hill. These names will become relevant shortly.

I've gone and trawled the Bristol Council 2013 primary school admissions reports on oversubcriptions, each school that is oversubscribed needs to detail how it is allocated it's places to transparently show that there is no bias, selection or other discriminatory behaviour as to why someone's child didn't get a place.

There is some interesting data in there... the average school size is around 60 pupils, and around a third of primary/infant schools have 3 rejected pupils for every one that makes it.

So does the center of Bristol have an admissions problem? Now I asked this originally because to me the central Bristol area is somewhat devoid of residents, especially families. Businesses, bars, government buildings, churches? Yes, plenty of those, family accommodation not so much.

And just what is "Central Bristol" anyway? Looking at the wards I'm making a conservative judgement that it is Clifton and Clifton East, Cabot and Southville...or at least parts of all of them.

View the data for this map
(edit: I should note that this isn't in relation to TOTAL primary spaces, only the level at which oversubscribed schools are being requested... it is an indicator either of school shortages OR of a disparity in the quality of educational establishments in the area)

The main thing that initially stands out for me is the number of schools that are oversubscribed in Ashley, Bishopston and Henleaze compared to the whole of the South of Bristol (South of Bristol is less oversubscribed). Central Bristol (as I'm looking at is) only has 5 oversubscribed schools out of 49 in the whole of Bristol, just over 10% of schools.

If we look at just how oversubscribed the top 10% of schools in Bristol are, Southville Primary is the runaway winner with 4.8 pupils rejected for everyone one that is admitted. Next is Ashley Down Primary, Brentry Primary, Ashley Down Infant and St Werburgh's Primary with a range of rejects from 3.8 down to 3.1 pupils for every one admitted.

Grouping these schools up into their wards shows that Henbury, Westbury-on-Trym and Easton are the most oversubscribed wards, while the least oversubscribed appear to be Southmead, Kingsweston and Stockwood.

In terms of the central wards, Cabot isn't even over subscribed (this is the ward in which the new Primary school is being proposed), while the two Clifton wards deal with about 6% of all of the oversubscriptions in Bristol, and Southville another 5% again.

To me this plan, to make a rather drastic change to one of our public spaces, doesn't seem to add up. The schools nearest to it aren't oversubscribed, while an entire 46% of the children that fail to find a place in their first choice primary schools are from the North Bristol block of wards (Henbury, Henleaze, Westbury-on-Trym, Ashley, Bishopston, Horfield and Southmead), this despite them only being 20% of all the wards in the whole of Bristol.

If the council is going to be looking at where money is being spent on primary schooling, and on development of educational spaces, it is a no-brainer to look to the top of Gloucester Road and northwards. This is where parents are clearly demanding places for their children, but with schools in the area falling short of places. For Ashley Down Infant school the furthest that a pupil selected (that wasn't there because of a sibling already studying at the school) was 283 meters away. From a standing start it would take little more than 25 seconds for Usain Bolt to traverse this distance (fun fact).

This whole process feels to me to be shrouded in half truths and innuendo, about supporting the poor kids in the center of Bristol, that those of us questioning the value of such a move are putting "books" before "children", as if there has to be some kind of either/or, black or white, differentiation between the two.

I hope the Council will put a stop to these plans when they get to have their say, if they are able, and look at the more pressing locations around Bristol that need their attention on our disappointing lack of primary education space.


Thanks to @laura_lafave there is this document to look atfrom 2012. The interesting stuff is from page 46 or so onwards. If you look you'll see that in the "East Central" area there is a definite future demand in the lower Ashley, Easton and St George area.

This correlates very much with the data we have on first choice admissions (link below) which shows St George has the third highest number of oversubscriptions in the city, and Ashley the fifth. Elsewhere though the report is at odds with parents' first choice applications. It is implied that areas such as Henleaze, Bishopston and similar will have little issue finding places in schools in adjoining wards, though this doesn't seem to deal with the issue of the lack of local provision where it is desired.

The correlation between the two sets of information does strongly point to a need specifically for schools in the South and East of Bristol. It's hard, from my perspective, to see where the case is being made for a school that is so pressing in need as to have to use the Library to service it's accomodation.

End Edit

Link: Get the data here


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