New authority plans to close 58 schools

20th September 1996 at 01:00
Fifty-eight Bristol infant and junior schools are earmarked for closure or merger and a secondary will shut under proposals unveiled by the new unitary authority .

Bristol's education director, Richard Riddell, saw headteachers and the chairs of governors of the affected schools over two days last week to give them the bad news.

While Bristol was still part of Avon there were warnings that the it could face difficulties because it would inherit largely inner-city schools. In all 34 infant and junior schools will be merged into single primaries. Closing Lawrence Weston school, which has less than 300 pupils, will save an estimated Pounds 260,000 a year.

It has been calculated that Bristol has 2,422 surplus primary places and 5,648 secondary places unfilled out of a total roll of 37,500. A spokesman for the authority said the programme of closures and mergers was necessary "for the good of education in the city".

He added: "Bristol is tackling an issue that Avon County Council shied away from. The signs are that this authority will now follow this through. These are painful decisions but they must be made. It is a pity that Avon did not look at the problems with the provision of service before abolition so that the new authority could start with a clean slate."

The policy was being debated by the education committee as The TES went to press, but was expected to be approved. Changes, if approved by the Education and Employment Secretary, would take effect from September 1998.

John Ashton, chair of the education committee, said "If we don't go ahead with this review, then we would be forced to take away money directly from schools which we don't want to do.".

He said the Government was imposing strict spending limits which meant Bristol must save Pounds 6.2 million over three years. And he said that small schools were extremely expensive to run.

However, the council is likely to face some strong campaigning from parents and teachers opposed to the review. Lawrence Weston School was earmarked for closure in 1989 but was saved by a campaign by parents.

Martin Powell, chair of governors at Highridge infants school, said that there had not been enough time for schools to start a campaign but the general feeling was that schools were not happy about what is happening.

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