July Letter: Bristol schools for Bristol kids

June 26 2015

I read with interest your coverage of the recent Bishopston Forum that saw Ian Bell answer questions from residents about the upcoming shortage of secondary school places in the north of the city.

I read with interest your coverage of the recent Bishopston Forum that saw Ian Bell answer questions from residents about the upcoming shortage of secondary school places in the north of the city.

I attended this meeting to raise a number of points regarding other local oversubscribed schools that allocate places to the whole city and beyond. The three schools of interest to your readers are likely to be St Mary Redcliffe and Temple, Colston's Girls' School and Bristol Cathedral Choir School. It might be of interest for you to learn that both St Mary Redcliffe and Bristol Cathedral Choir School have recently undergone external investigations by the Office of the School Adjudicator for unlawful admission arrangements with both have been ordered to make changes as aspects of how these schools were allocating places were found to be outside of education law. Colston's Girls' School uses a practice of ring-fencing places for children who apply from outside of the Bristol City Council boundaries, and the 'sibling rule' that all these schools exercise means a younger child living outside of Bristol would have priority over any Bristol applicants.

I raised the issue at the meeting and I am sure your reporter would have heard Ian Bell go into extraordinary detail about the history of how these schools became academies. The impression given by Ian Bell was that there is little the authority can do about how these two schools allocate places. What was presented at the meeting, taken to the extreme, would mean if all Bristol secondary schools choose to serve children from outside the boundary, there would be no course of action open to the authority to fulfils its legal duty of ensuring a school place for the children it serves - this of course is preposterous. The idea then that there is nothing the LA can do to influence these schools to allocate places to children applying from within Bristol is equally preposterous for this reason.

Each year up to 80 Year 7 places will be allocated to children who do not live in Bristol by Colston's Girls' and Bristol Cathedral Choir School combined - this being a mixture of places either from the ring-fence Colston's uses, the 'random allocation' used by Bristol Cathedral or the sibling priority used by both schools.

I spoke to a couple of parents at the event who were unaware that over-subscribed schools locally were turning away Bristol applicants whilst allocating places to children living far and wide beyond the BCC boundary. If this practice was to stop, the apparent urgency for secondary school places in the north – in particular the Bishopston/Redland area – would certainly dissipate beyond 2017 entry.

Christine Townsend