Third Bristol independent wants academy status

19th February 2010 at 00:00
Private St Ursula's follows city trend by proposing to go free for all

An independent school in an area with one of the country's highest concentrations of private schools has announced it is planning to become a state-funded academy free to all.

If successful, St Ursula's Convent will become the third private school in Bristol - but only the seventh in the country - to take that route.

The co-educational school, which currently has just 200 four-to-16 year olds on its roll, is hoping the move will create places for 700 local children.

The school's governors say the decision was prompted by financial pressures resulting from the recession, and calls from local parents' groups for a good state secondary in the north west of the city.

Bristol has a significant tradition of private education, with a fifth of children attending an independent school.

Some smaller establishments in the city are believed to be fighting for survival in the shadow of big names such as Clifton College.

State schools in the local authority area have a chequered reputation and the city languishes near the bottom of the exam league tables.

Bristol City Council has attempted to counter this by establishing eight academies, which have proved far more popular with parents than their predecessor schools.

If successful, St Ursula's will follow in the footsteps of Colston's Girls' School and Bristol Cathedral Choir School, both private schools which converted to academy status in 2008.

Charlotte Leslie, new chair of governors at St Ursula's, said: "Because there's such an intensity of independent schools in Bristol, some are finding it hard to cope.

"There is also such a desire for a new state secondary school.

"We are absolutely at the earliest stages at the moment, but I wanted to announce the direction we want to go in early and put our cards on the table."

A spokeswoman for the council said it was too early to say whether a 700-pupil academy would be needed in the city because an independent study of school population figures was yet to be carried out.

Despite the small surge in independent schools becoming academies in Bristol, figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families show that numbers seeking academy status nationwide are still very low.

The DCSF said it was currently considering applications from just two other schools, the military-funded Duke of York's Royal Military School in Dover and the EU-funded European School Culham in Oxfordshire.

The news from Bristol comes in the week that Brantwood School, a girls' independent in Sheffield, was forced to close after its bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, turned down its application for a loan.

Staff and pupils were given just eight days' notice that the school was to shut down at the end of last week.

Governors and parents tried until the final deadline to devise a rescue package, but the school closed on Friday after no viable solution was found.

Dr John Wilson, from the University of Sheffield, said in all his years of educational research, he had never come across a school which had been closed at such short notice.

Finding new purpose

From private school to academy:

- Belvedere Academy, Liverpool

- Birkenhead High School Academy, The Wirral

- Bristol Cathedral Choir School

- Colston's Girls' School, Bristol

- William Hulme's Grammar School, Manchester

- The Hereford Steiner Academy, Herefordshire.

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