By Linda Tanner, Education Correspondent
A PETITION has been launched by parents to help Bristol City Council persuade the Government to hand over more money to provide new primary schools.
The city has one of the fastest-growing child populations outside London and needs to provide at least 3,000 extra school places by 2014.
But, as revealed in the Evening Post last week, the Government has only committed £9 million for the current year and the council estimates it needs a total of £151 million to meet short, medium and long-term needs.
Education Secretary Michael Gove this week announced he would make £500 million available to councils where numbers were increasing fastest. Much of this is likely to go to London boroughs but Bristol is pressing to be given a high priority for a good share of that sum.
The petition calls on the Liberal Democrat council leader Barbara Janke to lobby for the extra funding.
It says: “Bristol desperately needs more funding for additional school places.
“We, the undersigned, are parents of children who are four years old and under or expectant parents who live in Bristol. The last four years has seen an unprecedented rise (20 per cent ) in the number of children entering school in reception class. By 2014, there will be an extra 3,000 children in Bristol primary schools and, if planned housing is developed, this will increase to an extra 5,000.
“This is good for the future of the city but there are serious challenges to creating the extra school places the city needs. We, therefore, call on the leader of the council to press the Government urgently to make the necessary funding available – capital and revenue – and also to support the vital work the council is doing by designating a civil servant to work with Bristol officials at the highest possible level.”
At the launch of the petition yesterday at Air Balloon Hill Primary School in St George, Innes Rawlinson, one of the sponsors of the petition, described how his family had been affected by the pressure on places.
“It was very stressful when my daughter was offered a place several miles from our family home.Whilst our problem has now been resolved, with West Town Lane Primary School agreeing to offer a ‘bulge’ intake year, there remain many children across Bristol who still don’t have a local place.
It’s unacceptable to send a four-year-old a long way from their local community for schooling, which is why I am co-sponsoring this petition.”
Local parent and petition sponsor, Frances Cope, said: “I’m very concerned there are enough school places in Bristol in this and coming years. I’m supporting the petition to make sure taxes go towards providing the facilities that our communities need. Across the city this is a real issue that is affecting families and risks dividing communities.”
Mrs Janke said: “It’s of the utmost priority that we have funding to start work in the next six months if we are to provide the much-needed places we know we will need. This petition from parents is very welcome and I would urge concerned families to support it and work with us to press our case with Government.
Air Balloon Hill Primary School will be expanding its numbers to four forms of entry in September. Head teacher Robert Worsfold said: “We recognised the need in this part of the city for more places for local children and staff and governors were happy to be able to support the community by creating new places.”
The council’s cabinet last night (thu) approved a school organisation strategy that sets out how extra places can be achieved in the difficult financial climate.
The petition can be found on Bristol City Council’s petitions website – bit.ly/bccschools.