By Linda Tanner, Education Correspondent
BRISTOL needs more than £150 million to solve its primary school places crisis – and the Government has only given the city £9 million.
That is the harsh reality facing councillors and officers as they try to make sure there are enough schools for the rapidly-growing child population.
The numbers of four-year-olds starting school this September is about 1,000 more than four years ago and the figure for 2012 will be higher still.
A report to councillors this week outlines the scale of the challenge for Bristol, which has one of the fastest-increasing infant population in the country.
The Liberal Democrat-controlled cabinet will tomorrow be asked to adopt the latest strategy for coping with the problem and to agree a coordinated approach to the Government for more financial help.
The estimate is that 3,000 additional primary school places have to be created by 2014.
The cabinet will be urged to agree short-term proposals and feasibility studies for some medium-term measures.
Councils usually have an idea how much they will receive for major building projects over three years, but decisions on education finance have been delayed because of a nationwide review of school construction programmes.
The report from service director Craig Bolt says: “The failure of the Department for Education to identify funding allocations for the medium term is creating programming difficulties for the city council’s future investment strategy, especially in relation to the delivery of education projects beyond 2011/12.”
The children’s services scrutiny commission heard on Monday that council leaders were seeking a meeting with Education Secretary Michael Gove or Schools Minister Nick Gibb and were also lobbying the city’s four MPs to try to plead Bristol as a special case for extra money.
Mr Bolt said work was continuing with communities across the city to try to identify areas of greatest demand and to look at possible solutions.
The aim was to come up with innovative and imaginative ways of providing additional places at a reasonable cost.
He said it was a matter of managing expectations, because of the lack of funds.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Fi Hance said: “There is an issue about working with local communities without any budget to work with. You can discuss it all you want but without any budget you can’t deliver. It is the elephant in the room. You don’t know how much money you have got.”
Mr Bolt said that across the city more schools were now realising that there was a problem and were considering whether they could take more pupils.
Labour’s Councillor Derek Pickup was worried about the use of prefabricated classroom buildings and said the council should be more aspirational.
But parent governor representative Diana Warden said that at her school, which was increasing in size from two to four forms of entry, plans had had to be discarded because they were too expensive and could not be achieved in time.
Mr Bolt said using modular buildings made off-site could be transformational in their own way for schools because of the speed with which they could be installed.