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Battle Heats up over Bristol Schools
Infant and junior school children and their parents were joined by teachers on 19 July as they marched to protest against a planned major shake-up of Bristol's schools.
Bristol City council have entered into partnerships with companies who want to make a profit out of educating children. The government has set up a Primary Capital Fund to encourage councils to develop these types of policies.
The plans would affect virtually every primary school in the city and would see at least three closed completely, with 39 forced to "amalgamate" to form 19 larger schools for children aged three to 11 years. Many schools are being told they are "too small" and must be made bigger to be effective. Some of them have recently been awarded "OFSTED outstanding" standards, but this has no bearing on the future for children, parents and teachers.
Those at some of the schools have refused to accept this news without a fight. 150 people met in front of the council house in Bristol to hear speakers, swap stories and to tell councillors to throw out the proposals.
National Union of Teachers Acting general secretary Christine Blower attended the event and added her full support. "Save Our Schools" was the call as the crowd went on a short march around Bristol's city centre to highlight their battle.
A mother from the Summerhill Infants and Juniors School Action Group, whose schools face amalgamation, addressed the crowd telling them: "Amalgamating these two schools will make one enormous school of 630 pupils, which is too big for children as their first experience of education and learning. A school this size would not have the community feel and sense of cohesion which is vital to children of a very young age. When I chose my daughter's school, I chose it because I wanted a place where she would be known - not just her name, but personally known - by her teachers."
The council claims to be taking children's interests into account and says that there is a negative effect on performance when a child has to leave one school and start a new one. However, the School governing body at Ashley Down Infants has told the council: "We fear a dip in performance from the uncertainty the proposals create and directly from the amalgamation process. We asked for, but have never received a coherently argued justification for these proposals. We asked for the publication of the representations made at the initial phase of the consultation along with a written response, but have never received this either."
Head teachers are angry about the upset the announcements have already caused amongst their staff and about the prospect of running multiple schools where all the children are strangers to them. One said that she had been told the plans would benefit head teachers as they would be able to "prove themselves" by running bigger schools and networks of schools. But she said:
"Why can't I stay and prove myself in the junior school that I have chosen to be in because I care about it and want to be there. Teachers care about children and that's why they do the job."
Another has echoed the request for research to be produced to demonstrate that the plans are in the best interests of children, but this type of research has not been done. Many are convinced that the council is much more interested in getting their hands on the land on which schools are currently located.
The mother of one ten year-old at Stockwood Green school, which is earmarked for closure, accused the council of short-sighted planning and said: "We know why they want our school. It's because they want the land. There are plans to build 10,000 houses in our area and the city council is looking for somewhere to put them. Where all those extra children will go to school I don't know."
The council is also under heavy criticism for the timing of the public consultation, which is in its second phase. The deadline for submission was just one week before the end of term and probably the busiest time of the school year for parents, teachers and for the children who are making preparations and visiting their new teachers and classrooms ready for the coming new school year. The council will make its decision at the end of September.