Why the next Mayor must focus on who’s getting places at which schools.

IMG_0016I stand as a mayor candidate to raise this – why do the same groups of children get places at the same schools year after year and why has this remained largely unchanged since my own schooling 30 odd years ago?

When I was at school, the sport teams knew if they were playing a ‘posh’ school this would probably end in defeat. We were always more excited about playing a match against Monks Park (Orchard) or Portway (Oasis Brightstowe) because we knew we were in with a chance of winning. When the opposition was Colston Girls or St Mary Redcliffe experience taught us we were probably in for a hammering – home or away it made little difference.

Back then, Colstons Girls was a private school, the only way you were getting in was if your parents had the money, today this has changed Colstons Girls is a state funded academy allocating places to girls from across Bristol and beyond. St Mary Redcliffe was then, as now, a church school, getting a place requires regular church attendance within the Diocese of Bristol.

1 in 4 children in Bristol are currently growing up in poverty, educationally this translates to 1 in 4 (25%) of children being entitled to free school meals but these children are not evenly spread across our schools. Of the 21 secondary schools, 10 have a free school meal statistic that is less than 25%, this includes St Mary Redcliffe standing at 7.3%, Colstons Girls at 12.3%, Bristol Cathedral Choir School at 6.9% and Ashton Park at 15.3%. The other 11 schools obvious have higher numbers of free school meals as all children go to school. The highest, the City Academy Bristol (St George) has 66.9% while the Bridge Learning Campus (Hartcliffe Secondary) has 49.5%.

Poverty remains the single largest indicator of educational achievement, those who manage and govern schools know this and have done for years – it’s not a secret. The Coalition Government recognised the impact of poverty on educational achievement when it introduced Pupil Premium – funding allocated to schools to boost the educational achievement of the country’s poorest children. Pupil Premium, as yet, has not been a casualty of austerity.

Yesterday (11/11/15) The Sutton Trust published a piece of research entitled ‘Background to Success’. This found that the poorest children – those entitled to free school meals – were three times less likely to take 3 or more A levels than other students. This research also identifies something described as ‘double disadvantage’ – the impact on achievement when the poorest students attend schools with large numbers of other poor students. Whilst grades in Bristol schools have improved greatly over the past decade, what has not changed, is the gap between the ‘good’ schools with exam result in the 80-90%+ 5 A-C GCSEs and those reaching around 50%.

I have no idea if my own memories of playing other schools in sport reflects the experiences of children attending school today – over the years maybe a more level ‘playing field’ has been developed in terms of sporting success. What I do know is that those in positions of privilege have consistently used it to maintain an advantage for their children, this is why ensuring all schools in Bristol serve the full cross section of children using the state system is the only way to start to reduce the huge levels of inequality that have haunted our city for so many decades.

The solution is actually very simple. All schools, regardless of type, can prioritise places for children entitled to free school meals. Academies and Free schools have been able to do this for a good few years. Only the newly opened Steiner Free School in Fishponds has chosen to do this thus far and it this ‘choice’ that elevates this into the political sphere. Any candidate, regardless of political party or otherwise, cannot begin to tackle this city’s entrenched issues of inequality if half of our children’s secondary education system is allowed to continue to allocate places that result the backdoor social selection I recognise from my own schooling of 3 decades ago. Given the depth of educational evidence, what could be the possible reasons for any candidates in the upcoming elections not advocating for and adopting such a response?

Christine Townsend

Christine is the Independents for Bristol candidate for Bristol Mayor in 2016.


‘Background to Success’ The Sutton Trust http://www.suttontrust.com/researcharchive/background-to-success/

FSM statistics taken from School and College Performance Tables Department of Education http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/performance/geo/la801_all.html

Facebook Comments

Website Comments

  1. khris davis

    by this article,she is not offering those without children something,therefore she is not interested in the other groups in the city who have a vote

  2. George Rougepantalon

    Her naïveté is staggering. She seems to be anti-individual schools and doesn’t understand that the admissions code is centrally dictated and that, for academies, the school’s own admissions authority does have the power to consult and set criteria. In the main this power is fairly limited, especially for new academies.

    Schools understandably admit on a geographical basis so, guess what, schools set in areas with a less wealthy demographic have lower exam results using old progress measures.

    Individual pupil progress is a measure which is increasingly becoming the main measure of school effectiveness. This doesn’t depend on starting point and can benefit schools with a disadvantaged intake.

    She would do well to get a little more clued up about the realities before muck spraying too vigorously.

    • RDog

      Why does a school in the centre of Bristol need to take children from as far away as Wiltshire when children living locally , within easy walking distance, do not get a place when they apply? Your knowledge of the demographics of our city is clearly lacking as the schools that Ms Townsend mentions are in areas with a less wealthy demographic (yet have free school meal statistics which are pathetically low). The reality of the admissions system, that you seem to be defending, is that you can live in social housing in Cliftonwood,apply to the nearest state school, ie Cathedral Choir School and end up being offered a school 4 miles away. Maybe it is you who needs to get a little more clued up to the inequalities in education is this city. It appears to me that you support a system that allows these outstanding schools to mainly educate children from wealthy families at the expense of local children living in areas of social deprivation.

      • David Carterette

        Her theories are based on:

        FSM statistics which are notoriously misleading. These stats rely on those who are eligible applying. Often families do not want to apply for this benefit in many communities.
        Her memories of school sport fixures in the 1970s(?) – is she serious?
        Her dislike of the nationally applied Admissions code.
        Her clear and evident dislike of academies.

        Bristol’s strange admissions arrangements are more chaotic due to the legacy of many poorly run LA schools and the impact this has had on public perception. People apply for school places many miles away from home, often across authority borders, in order to secure the education that suits them.

        The admissions code allows faith schools to, perfectly reasonably, set their own criteria. Why is this an issue?

        Many school admissions policies are very straightforward and based on geographical distance or sibling arrangements. This is perfectly reasonable.

        • Neal Blunderbuss

          Thank you Sir David,
          I have been instructed by Stephanie Parsonage MBE to reply to your post.
          First I would like to so say how grateful we are for your continuing support in our attempts to maintain our social exclusivity. Our strange and confusing admission arrangements have been working beautifully to keep what Stephanie likes to call the ‘riff raff’ out of our school.
          We too are concerned that free school meal statistics are notoriously misleading and are often used to attack our poor school. We welcome recent action taken by the Department to remove the specific reporting of children growing up in poverty from the performance tables. Anything that hides our exclusivity within public documents is of extreme importance for our community.
          We are aware of the current controversy concerning education in the Bristol and have instructed our fantastic team Smudge Media to counteract any bad publicity. Stephanie and the board are worried that this socialist agenda will ruin the education of so many our students destined for leading roles in society. As he often says ‘why waste such fabulous education resources on those destined to sweep our streets’

  3. Neal Blunderbuss

    How disappointed to hear such unfair criticism of our wonderful schools. You may be aware that there have been a number of investigations by external regulators at both primary and secondary level with regard to admissions and health and safety. Whilst this is of concern, please don’t let these recent failures distract us from the glorious sound of the Cathedral bells ringing out across the city to celebrate our recent OFSTED success.
    Some parents may be concerned by the suggestion that we will be pressured to take those other children who live in poverty and within walking distance of our lovely school. In order to address these fears the governing body recently carried out a tokenistic consideration of prioritising pupils on free school meals, the conclusion of which is that we will now look to accept children from Dorset. To aid this exciting development our school, together with the Cathedral, will be submitting a planning application to transform college green into a helicopter landing facility. We are confident of our success in this project as our first rate Mayor has given his full support, especially as it will reduce the number of BMW and Audi SUVs polluting the streets outside our school.
    I would also like to take this opportunity to put at rest any fears some parents may have in regard to the possible merger with the neighboring school, St George Primary. St George has been educating the children of the working classes for over a century and like you, we are concerned that a large number of working class children in our school will have a detrimental effect on our current school population and ethos. The governing body will work closely with the council and the Mayor’s office, to find a solution, one proposal being that St George pupils would transfer to an under-subscribed school south of the river. With this merger, our magnificent school will gain new opportunities to bring much needed investment into an historic site in the heart of the city. The governing body have exciting plans to adapt this for our new nursery provision thus achieving our long held aim of providing an outstanding education for children aged 2 -18. This now means that you, the middle class parents of the South West can reproduce, safe in the knowledge that worries about school fees are confined to the past.

Post a comment