Bristol Grammar plans new school for Knowle

Published on: 30 Sep 2016

Bristol Grammar headmaster Rod MacKinnon

This is a longer version of an article in the October issue of South Bristol Voice. 

And it won’t displace The Park centre


 

THE PROPOSAL

• New, non–selective school 

• To open in 2019

• For ages 4-16

• 1,000 pupils

• Two forms of entry Year 1

• Six forms of entry Year 7

• Secondary could open first

• To serve Knowle

• No site identified

• Admission by proximity to the school

• Focus on GCSEs

• “Traditional values and ethos”

• Separate staff and facilities from BGS

• May not look like a traditional school

 

PLANS for a new, non-selective school for Knowle, put forward by fee-paying Bristol Grammar School, were broadly welcomed at a public meeting held to introduce the idea on September 23.However, Bristol South MP Karin Smyth told the Voice the plans had “come as a shock” to many, and she wanted to see genuine local involvement.

No opposition was voiced to the proposal from the 80 or so people who attended the event at Redcatch community centre – except for fears the school could displace The Park community centre in Daventry Road.

The grammar school’s headmaster Rod MacKinnon suggested in an interview with the Bristol Post on September 13 that The Park – which used to be Merrywood Boys School until it closed in 2000 – “would be ideal”.

But he told the public meeting that a site had not been identified, and it would be up to the Department for Education (DfE) to find a suitable location.

“It would be pointless to enrich provision for the community [by opening a school] at the expense of great community provision that is already there,” he said. Mr MacKinnon was responding to a question from the worried parent of a son with learning difficulties who attends The Park.

The Park is home to more than two dozen community organisations working with children, disadvantaged adults, the disabled, the unemployed and others. It has sports teams, a cookery school and a sustainable furniture company.

The Park is so busy every weekday that it is hard to find a parking space even though the former playgrounds are now used for vehicles.

The centre was the venue for a recent Jeremy Vine show, broadcast live, in which the Radio 2 DJ hosted debates, took a cycling test, and met scores of Park users and visitors.

The Voice understands that The Park had no idea about the grammar school’s plans until very recently. However, the board which runs the centre has not met to decide its view on the idea. Board members are likely to be relieved that it is no longer the most favoured site.

Knowle’s two councillors, Lib-Dem members Gary Hopkins and Christopher Davies, have been lobbying for a secondary school in the area for many years.

Cllr Hopkins told the public meeting: “Demand for secondary places will be going up very rapidly in this area.

“I don’t think it’s sensible for people to be travelling a considerable distance [to school] when we need a facility here.”

But discussions on locations need to take place before the DfE issues its decision, the two councillors said.

In an interview with South Bristol Voice, Mr MacKinnon said the plan is for a free school – a state-funded school open to all but run independently. Bristol city council has no money to build a school, and only free schools are currently getting government funds, he said. 

“I think it’s quite exciting that groups of people who are interested and have professional experience can use that to create a school for the community.

“We are confident that our experience will help us to make this school a success,” he said.

Matthew Bennett, a deputy head at the grammar school who is drafting the proposal for the new school, told the public meeting that he grew up in Novers Lane and went to school in Withywood. “I know the area really well and I know there is a lot of talent here,” he said.

“We want to release the potential and raise aspirations for children in this area.”

But it is not the aim to poach pupils from other schools, he said. “It’s about creating partnerships with other schools, it’s not about trying to compete with them or take [their] pupils.

“Schools in South Bristol have been improving rapidly in recent years but it’s still below average for Bristol and nationally. We think that the work we do at Bristol Grammar School we can replicate in the work we do here.”

“We are being very realistic about what this school will need to deliver,” he said. Staff have been looking at the number of pupils in the area need free school meals and other measures which will attract a pupil premium – extra money from the Government to combat deprivation.

Mr MacKinnon, who like his deputy was educated in the state sector, taught only at state schools until his appointment at the grammar school.

“I know what difference a good school can make,” he said.

Mr MacKinnon hinted to the Voice that the new school may have a radical design. “Schools don’t have to look like they used to. As a parallel, going round Southmead hospital, it doesn’t look like a hospital,” he said.

Given the difficulty of finding a site big enough to host a traditional school with a playground and sports fields, it may be that the new school will have more than one site, and might share facilities with other organisations.

But it’s not intended that it will share the grammar school’s sports ground at Failand, or use other grammar school sites.

The school was due to submit its 34,000 word submission to the DfE on September 28. It expects a verdict in the spring.

Karin Smyth MP, who was not at the public meeting, said in a statement: “Thanks to the efforts of our young people, teachers, governors, parents and carers – coupled with investment from government - educational achievement in Bristol has improved considerably in recent years.

 “There is still lots to do, however, and schools in south Bristol are well-placed to make further progress. That’s because not only have they established close links with parents, young people and the communities they serve, they have also successfully forged a collaborative model over recent years in which the schools work closely with each other with peer support.

“This gives them flexibility which helps them match skills and qualifications to the local economy, and to the global one.

 “Importantly it also gives parents a voice as they have real influence to help shape the nature and ethos of the school their children attend.

 “So the discovery that a new school might now be established, apparently without local influence in any decision, has come as a shock to many people. I know that many residents find it unacceptable that Whitehall can determine the shape of schooling in Bristol South, without genuine local accountability.

“In my view any plan to change local schooling provision must place at its heart the involvement of the affected communities and their representatives. It is also my view that any large scale educational development should be part of wider regeneration plans for the area. So these decisions should not be rushed, especially as in this case it is far from clear exactly where this proposed new school might be located.”

 

Questions from the public included:

Q Will admissions be restricted to a certain distance from the school?

A There is no set catchment area, but admissions will be decided by how close a pupil lives to wherever the school is sited.

Q What can people do to lobby for a secondary school in Knowle?

A “If you like the idea, email us,” said Mr MacKinnon. He also encouraged people to write to their MP. The DfE will look to see how much community support there is for a new school.

Q Will the new free school use any of the grammar school’s facilities? 

A Expertise and experiences will be shared. The grammar school already shares its facilities with others, but the new school will have to show that it is self sufficient.

Q Will the link with the grammar school be long-term?

A The aim is for a long-term partnership. A company trust will be set up to oversee the new school including governors and staff from the grammar school.

Q Will the grammar school’s plan complete with any other proposals for a school in Knowle?

A It’s possible that other plans could emerge but none are known of.

Q What do you mean by Knowle? Areas that lack a school include Knowle West and Inns Court. Where will be covered?

A The wider community of Knowle – but it will depend on where the school is sited, which is something the grammar school can’t decide. 

Q How many forms of entry will there be?

A There will be two for the primary school and up to six for the secondary. Mr MacKinnon said he wanted no larger an entry “ so it feels more like family”. The secondary may open first as the need looks higher there, but with more housing a priority for South Bristol, demand for primary places may rise too.

Q Will the new free school use any of the grammar school’s facilities? 

A Expertise and experiences will be shared. The grammar school already shares its facilities with others, but the new school will have to show that it is self sufficient.

Q Will the link with the grammar school be long-term?

A The aim is for a long-term partnership. A company trust will be set up to oversee the new school including governors and staff from the grammar school.

Q Will the grammar school’s plan complete with any other proposals for a school in Knowle?

A It’s possible that other plans could emerge but none are known of.

Q What do you mean by Knowle? Areas that lack a school include Knowle West and Inns Court. Where will be covered?

A The wider community of Knowle – but it will depend on where the school is sited, which is something the grammar school can’t decide. 

Q Will grammar school staff want to accept the challenge of working in Knowle?

A Staff are “very positive and excited” about the plans, said Mr MacKinnon. Many have worked in a variety of schools; some may want to move to take new jobs in Knowle.

   About Bristol Grammar School

• Bristol Grammar School was founded in 1532 and became independent only when state grammar schools were abolished. It has admitted girls since 1979 and has 1,000 pupils aged 4-18.

An Independent Schools Inspection report in October 2015 rated the school “excellent” in all eight catgeories. This year, 90 per cent of GCSE entries were A or B grades, while at A level 60 per cent were rated A or A*.  

 

 

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