Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg was in Bristol yesterday to join Labour’s candidate to be Bristol’s first elected mayor, Marvin Rees, in his big City Conversation.
The pair met local parents and teachers, heads, young people, youth workers, councillors and representatives from the voluntary sector, pressure groups, community associations and Bristol’s universities.
One of the most shocking issues to come up from the meetings was that of school places, particularly in south Bristol, where an influx of young families has seen population rises of 20% in some parts of the city, but adequate nursery and primary school places are not being provided by the council.
Despite at least two extra classes being needed next year in Southville alone, local parents fear this will not be in place by September 2013. Ashton Gate primary school has a double entry for the first time this September, but there isn’t the physical space to accommodate the pupils. An annex on the St Francis church site nearby was planned but will now not be ready in time.
I was shocked when one local mother with two children at Ashton Gate told me council officers explained the shortage away by admitting they don’t look at numbers due in the September intake, until the March of the same year. If this is true, this is nothing short of institutional ineptitude, defeatism or lazy short-termism.
And that’s just south Bristol. There are capacity issues across the city. When I investigated why the council is not forecasting the extra need well in advance, by analysing data from the time of the actual increase in registered births, my research hit a brick wall. I was told they’d tried and it was too difficult. How so? The registration of births locally must enable estimates to be made and forecasts of future need, presumably at least four years in advance.
Why isn’t the Lib Dem administration making this happen? Efficient forward planning and then lobbying the Treasury for money years in advance for more space and teachers are needed now.
On top of the nursery and primary place shortage, these baby boom children will all need to go to secondary school within a few years. Is that being planned for? Where will the money come from to build new nursery, primary and secondary schools?
When I asked Mr Twigg yesterday for answers, he pointed out the harsh truth about funding cuts, with the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition cutting funding for new build schools by a massive 57%. This is against a general 30% cut in most other spending areas.
Innovative solutions are needed now. Our shadow minister called on local politicians to challenge the funding going to Free Schools when they don’t reflect need but are often started as ‘pet projects’, as he calls them.
The children and young people, families and communities forum yesterday is part of a series of roundtable events hosted by Marvin with shadow cabinet ministers and local people discussing the direction the city needs to be taken.
Submissions to the City Conversation must be made by August 13 to make your concerns heard and this may form part of the policy platform Marvin will stand on. Any individual or organisation across the city can contribute their ideas:
- By post to FREEPOST MARVIN REES CITY CONVERSATION
- By email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- On Facebook at www.facebook.com/marvinreescityconversation
- On Twitter @MarvinReesCC
Amanda Ramsay is a Bristol Labour Party campaigner and blogger