Parents call for new free school in Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol
A GROUP of parents wanting St Ursula’s to become an all-through school by September 2015 have issued a rallying call.
The group are driven by the fear there will be a shortage of secondary school places in Westbury-on-Trym in the next few years, due to the rising number of primary school children in the area and the inevitable influx of families moving to work at the new Southmead Hospital.
David Antonio Smith, who is leading the campaign to open up the primary school in Brecon Road – now called the St Ursula’s E-Act Academy – to secondary pupils, believes children may end up without a place anywhere near their homes if more classrooms are not made available.
Council documents show that there would be a shortage of 230 places for Year 7 pupils in North Bristol by 2017.
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The St Ursula’s site was later taken on by E-Act, which runs several other academies, and reborn as a state-funded primary school for children aged four to 11.
But some of the space in the buildings on the nine-acre site, which was bought by the city council for £2 million, is standing empty.
The group of parents supporting the campaign are preparing to submit a 200-page application to the Department for Education (DfE) by May or June to open an all-through school as a free school.
The proposed secondary school, when full, would have places for 450 children.
At a meeting on Thursday night attended by more than 80 concerned parents at the Eastfield Inn in Henleaze Road Mr Antonio Smith, of Henleaze, whose nine-year-old son attends the E-Act academy, was joined by others including MP Charlotte Leslie, parents Marc Reed and Martin Brown, local councillor Chris Windows and Cllr Alistair Watson (Con, Westbury-on-Trym) – cabinet member for children and young people.
Mr Antonio Smith explained that the group needed help to complete the “onerous task” but was key in obtaining a chunk of the money education minister Michael Gove has put aside for groups wishing to set up free schools.
He said they needed to demonstrate strong support for the venture and appealed for parents with specific skills in education, HR, finance, law and marketing to come forward and offer their skills for the cause.
“We want to create a sanctuary for our children, a school that nurtures them,” Mr Antonio Smith said.
“Now the main thing is to get help finalising the application. If we can do that successfully we can have our school and all our worries will have gone away.
“This is our last opportunity in BS9. If we lose out and that building is closed down or developed we will never have a secondary school in this area because there is no other land available.”
Fellow parent Marc Reed said the group had come up with a example class timetable that included the core subject – maths, English, science – as well as the opportunity to study others including Mandarin Chinese and Russian.
Mr Reed emphasised that the timetable was purely an example and said he welcomed the input of parents regarding all other subjects including sport and music.
“We are striving for academic excellence but want to appeal to every child,” he said.
Mr Watson, who has recently been made cabinet member for children and young people, said he had campaigned for a secondary school in the area for the past 12 years and looked upon the group’s campaign with “positive eyes.”
He also dismissed rumours that the buildings could be sold for development saying a covenant was in place protecting against that happening.
Mr Watson added: “I have not spoken directly with George (Ferguson) about the school but once something is on paper I am happy to do so.”
Mr Antonio Smith said: “This is for our children. When you tuck them up in bed think about the future you can give them. Get behind this and it can happen.
Councillor Chris Windows said: “This is the best opportunity you will ever have to realise your aspirations. Now is the time to do it – BS9 deserves and should have this.”
MP Charlotte Leslie, who expressed her optimism now George Ferguson was in place as mayor, said: “The Bristol Free School started off as only three of us, three pints and a chat about what we could do to get a secondary school in the area.
“The idea that there would be a free school almost seemed like lunacy. It’s never easy but nothing worth doing is easy. It can be done – good luck.”
An online petition launched in support of the campaign has already attracted more than 200 signatures. The petition can be viewed by visiting www.ipetitions.com/petition/stursulasats2014.