Gentrification blamed as axe falls on school

ST BARNABAS C of E Primary School in Montpelier will shut its doors for the final time this summer.

Bristol City Council’s cabinet has decided the school must shut because of falling pupil numbers. Children will be found places in schools nearby and nine teachers and 13 support staff face redeployment or redundancy. 

The decision was taken on February 7 despite a petition signed by 2,495 people calling for the school to be saved.

Parent Lotty Cronk, who presented the petition,  claimed St Barnabas was the “victim of gentrification and poor planning”.  

She  told the cabinet meeting: “St Barnabas is unique with exceptional support for children with SEND and social, emotional and mental health needs, and vulnerable families, unrivalled outdoor spaces and a 150-year history at the heart of the local community. The availability of empty spaces in the area has been misrepresented.

“We have an autistic child in reception and there are no spaces at St Werburgh’s, Fairlawn, Sefton Park or Glenfrome in this year group. The schools with empty places are a considerable distance away and some, in my opinion, do not offer an acceptable level of educational care.

“We believe the proposed closure is short-sighted and that the consultation process has not been carried out fairly. St Barnabas is a victim of poor planning by the council and the gentrification of the local area. We believe the school closure will further disadvantage the already disadvantaged.”

Numbers started to fall after two primary schools opened nearby, and Ofsted found St Barnabas “required improvement” in 2017 — although parents said the school had become much better since. 

Mayor Marvin Rees said a low birth rate meant there was less demand for primary school places across Bristol.

Mr Rees said: “At St Barnabas the numbers have fallen to just over 50 pupils, when the school has capacity for 210. School budgets are mainly based on pupil numbers, and therefore funding has been an issue for the school which is why the governors have decided to recommend closure.

“We understand that this is a very emotive issue and don’t underestimate the challenges on children and families that this will bring. However, the governors have concluded that the school is not sustainable. The school and ourselves will support parents to find new school places. I’m very alive to the dangers of gentrification in an area that I used to live in and spent my childhood playing in. It looks incredibly different to what it was then, in many ways. We don’t underestimate how passionate people are about the future of the school, and our education team will work with parents to make sure people are getting a good future for their children.” 

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service

Metro Mayor  Dan Norris with head Debbie Fisher and pupils in 2022