Abbeywood School could expand to meet growing demand
A group of parents in Cheswick seeking a secondary school for their children say they have been left in ‘no-man’s land’
by Rich Coulter and Shane Gibson
Abbeywood School could be set for expansion, with up to 300 extra students on the roll over a five-year period.
The change comes as a group of parents in Cheswick seeking a secondary school for their children say they have been left in ‘no-man’s land’, with the distant Patchway Community School the only option for some. Abbeywood's catchment area has been shrinking in recent years, meaning even some parts of Filton are no longer inside it.
The area’s MP, Jack Lopresti, has told Filtonvoice he would also support moves to create a ‘Free School’ if there was a desire by local parents.
In documents seen by Filtonvoice, South Glos Council officials say there “is a strong case for additional provision to be made available in the short term at Abbeywood Community School to an additional 300 places across the age range”.
South Glos has also announced a substantial rebuild for Patchway and plans for a school on Filton Airfield but neither address the immediate need.
Campaigners in Cheswick and other communities say they fall outside the Abbeywood catchment area, which has shrunk in recent years as demand has increased. Cheswick’s location also means the majority of residents, in South Glos, are unlikely to get places at Bristol schools like the new Trinity Academy or Orchard School.
This means families are typically being offered places at Patchway, which requires a public bus to get there. Families in places like Little Stoke, although much closer to Patchway, are offered Abbeywood because they fall in the catchment area.
Campaigner Kayleigh Lenney said: “It has become apparent that although there is continuing housing development, there are currently no plans or provisions for secondary education.”
“This has left children scattered, some of whom are being sent to Patchway which is more than three miles away from here as the crow flies. It is an hour’s walk or a four-mile drive. It has a negative effect on the environment of the village and for parents it is just too far for the children to be safe walking. We are currently being given no choice of where our children will go to school.”
"People have bought into places like Cheswick because we believed it was family friendly.
“Now families are being offered Patchway which isn’t a safe commute for an 11-year-old. It would be common sense for our children to attend Abbeywood, which they could walk to.
“As a result, we set up a Facebook group which within days had more than 200 members.
“The plan to add 60 places at Abbeywood is good but not enough. We are anticipating families will leave they place that they have invested their lives in. It feels unfair as it was a predictable problem.
“Some might consider private schools but this is difficult for many. A free school might be an option and we wouldn’t rule it out.
“We are in a no man’s land and feel a bit forgotten.”
The campaigners, who gathered in Cheswick last month in a show of strength, have the support of South Glos councillor James Arrowsmith.
He said: “South Gloucestershire Council needs to address the poor provision of secondary schools in the BS16 area and along the urban fringe. Oversubscribed schools and long commutes to Patchway do not serve the needs of children and parents. This will only limit their opportunities and make reaching their full potential more difficult than it should be."
Filton and Bradley Stoke MP Mr Lopresti said: “I have received a number of emails from concerned local parents in Cheswick Village and understand their frustrations about the lack of school provision in the area.
“I understand that Abbeywood Community School has been earmarked for expansion, and I have been championing the cause of getting Patchway School rebuilt.
"However, should there still be demand for a school nearer to Cheswick, this is precisely the kind of problem that the Government developed free schools to resolve and I support any efforts to explore the free school option for the people of Cheswick.
“I will work with local parents to investigate this and other options if it is something that the community clearly wants.”
Dave Baker, chief executive of the Olympus Trust which runs Abbeywood and Patchway as well as other local schools, has been in talks with parents and also with the Cabot Learning Federation, which runs Wallscourt Farm Primary in Cheswick. He said improvements at Patchway, and more parents choosing that school, would lead to more spaces being freed up at Abbeywood.
He said: "We are in discussion with South Glos Council to expand to eight forms of entry and this process will probably accelerate now."
He added that any expansion would be on a year by year basis, building up from year 7
A spokesperson for South Gloucestershire Council said: “We are committed to supporting local communities access high quality education provision within their area and we work closely with local schools and Multi Academy Trusts to support that aim. In addition to this, improving school standards is our number one priority and last year we agreed a record four year, £78 million capital investment programme to help improve schools in the district.
“We appreciate parents/carers taking the time to raise their concerns and we, along with the Olympus Academy Trust (OAT), as the admission authority for Abbeywood, understand that the transfer to secondary school is an important step in the educational development of our children.
"To help as many children as possible to secure a place at a preferred school, parents are advised to include three preferences in their application for admission and rank these in order of preference.
“In the case of Abbeywood, residents living within Cheswick Village are within the ‘Area of Prime Responsibility’ for Abbeywood, Bradley Stoke and Patchway Community Schools. This means priority of admission to these schools is afforded to residents under the current admission arrangements. The concerns raised by parents reflect that Abbeywood is a very popular school and the pattern of admissions show that the furthest distance offered for the last child to qualify for a place has been reducing over the past few years. While Trinity School is geographically close to Wallscourt Farm, the school is part of the Cathedral Schools Trust which is responsible for admissions to the school.
“It is planned that OAT will expand Abbeywood Community School to provide additional places and a feasibility study is under way to help inform a timescale to deliver that.”