Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Latest developments re. Urban Village School for Ashley Ward.

Despite the months of silence work has been ongoing behind the scenes. We have been working over the past months to detail the possible design and organisation of our proposal for a community school on a human scale. The design and organisation which we are developing is benefiting from the research which James Wetz has undertaken on the feasibility of ‘Urban Village Schools’ with funding from the Gulbenkian Foundation.

We are currently developing a format to facilitate a community dialogue in which we are hoping all interested members of this community will participate. We hope to disseminate the findings from this dialogue through a public meeting to be held in the new year and will then publish a final proposal with details of how we propose to move towards the implementation of our plans.

Please feel free to comment on this or any of the other posts or contact Ruth Myers at ruth@locallearning.org.uk

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Parent consultation

I was invited to the Human Scale Education Annual Conference and AGM on Saturday 5 July
at The Charity Centre, Directory of Social Change in London. James Wetz was the keynote speaker, presenting "An Urban Village School -A new approach to schooling for all young people in our inner cities".www.hse.org.uk

In his film ‘The Children Left Behind’ (which was shown in the Channel 4 Dispatches series in February) James showed how large, unreconstructed schools are failing to meet the needs of many children and young people. Based on the evidence of successful small schools in the US and on his own experience, James is developing a model of an urban village school which will be small, personal, community based and radically different in its approach to the real needs of young people.

The afternoon focused on how an urban village school might be achieved. It was attended by headteachers, education writers and practitioners from across the country. There was a lot of interest in what we are trying to achieve here in Bristol.

Our next step is to commission a consultation report within Ashley Ward to find out what parents in our community want for their children from secondary school education and whether they feel that is available within the existing provision. We will then take the results of this consultation to Heather Tomlinson and continue the discussion.

Please feel free to publish comments on the blog or, if you prefer, to my email address for me to publish your comments.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Outcomes of the meeting with Heather Tomlinson and subsequent e mail exchanges.

Marie-Annick Gournet and Ruth Myers met with Heather Tomlinson, Bristol’s Director of the Department of Children, Schools and Families, Peter Hammond, Deputy Leader of Bristol City Council and Executive Member for Bristol’s Department for Children, Schools and Families and Piers Brunning, Strategy Leader for Innovation and Access on Thursday 18th June.

The meeting was to discuss the plans for the Urban Village School. Below are the exchange of e mails between Ruth Myers and Heather Tomlinson. Please feel free to post your comments and responses to this exchange on the blog.

Sent to Peter Hammond, Piers Brunning, Heather Tomlinson
(cc Marie-Annick Gournet)

Dear Peter, Piers and Heather,

Thankyou for meeting with Marie-Annick and myself today. I had promised that I would feedback the outcomes of our meeting to the Urban Village School group via the blog http://urban-village-school.blogspot.com

Before I do that I would like to verify that I have accurately quoted you and that I have not made any obvious omissions.

We understood that all three of you liked the vision that we set out, however,

- explained that the BSF money has already been spent and that Human Scale education was economically unviable,
- felt that 1.9 km was not too far to walk and that the busy roads that are suggested as part of the safer route to Fairfield are an unfortunate reality of living in a city,
- recognised that we feel that Fairfield no longer truly serves our community and felt that Fairfield needed to work harder to make us feel a part of that community,
- was interested in us working with the existing provision i.e. Fairfield and would be happy to make contact with the school on our behalf,
- said that smaller schools made it difficult to appoint teachers of a high calibre and that flatter management structures would make less of a difference financially these days as there is less of a discrepancy between senior management pay and the rest of the staff.
- questioned why they would invest in a school in Ashley Ward along Human Scale dimension when this could lead to a 110 small scale secondary schools across the city and that this would be economically unviable.

- raised the issue of there being insufficient primary school places in Ashley Ward and that this has become a priority for them,
- highlighted that the old Fairfield site was not an option as it was needed for the St. Barnabas expansion,
- suggested the trust approach; looking at the idea of schooling from 0 through to 19 and wondered whether we might want to play a role in the transition from primary to secondary school and become involved in how to shape secondary school experience,
- was also interested in us working with the existing provision and felt that we could operate as a group that could influence Fairfield and that our vision could help to make Fairfield more successful.

- warned that the 7,000 houses for Lockleaze that are mentioned in the preferred option in the Local Development Framework Core Strategy might not necessarilly be filled by families and would not therefore impact on Fairfield,
- said that given the current climate with regards to the housing market the 7,000 houses may not be built at all or postponed until 2026.

I hope that this is an accurate representation of our meeting. I am hoping to publish the outcomes of our meeting early next week.

Thank you again for your time.


Ruth Myers

Sent to Ruth Myers
(cc Peter Hammond, Piers Brunning, Marie-Annick Gournet)

Thanks for this Ruth. It was good to meet you too. I don't think that these points entirely reflect what we said, but I'll let you have something back by close of play on Monday.

Many thanks H

Sent to Ruth Myers

Dear Ruth,As requested, please find below my notes of our meeting last week:

Heather explained that:

a) The council very much supports the view that 'Human scale' education important to children, school staff and communities, but believes, as does James Wetz, that these conditions can be effectively created within larger units of provision. James, for example, showcased Brislington Engineering College as a good example of this. Merchant's and City Academies are further examples.

b) All Building Schools for the Future (BSF) and secondary capital funding has already been invested to rebuild and refurbish Bristol's existing secondary schools. Half of the schools are already built, as is Fairfield; other schools are being built now. No further funding is available to create an additional secondary school in Bristol. The next wave of funding for building schools in Bristol is earmarked by the government for primary schools. Funding an additional school would require closing a newly built school. This is not an option that either the council or government would consider because it would waste millions of pounds of taxpayers money.

c) All state schools are funded through a national pupil-led formula. Small units of provision struggle to provide the curriculum flexibility now required by government. This is only affordable where there are economies of scale. Small schools are unable to afford the same support and development opportunities for staff that larger schools are able to provide, which affects recruitment. Flat management structures can be achieved in any size of school.

d) Government policy is that 3 miles is the limit that secondary pupils should be expected to walk or cycle to school. The distance of 1.9 km between your community and Fairfield School is half that distance. The busy roads that are suggested as part of the safer route to Fairfield are an unfortunate reality of living in a city. Also, Bristol's secondary schools are fast becoming the most up to date learning facilities in the country, which is well worth a slightly longer walk to school compared to a short walk to unfit-for-purpose provision. Providing a secondary school for every local community would result in as many secondary schools as primary schools, which is clearly completely unviable.

e) Parents may miss the former Fairfield provision, because it was on the doorstep and felt central to the local community. This relationship can and will be re-created if the school and the community work together to achieve it. Fairfield has worked hard to reach out to its community and the council will help in any way it can to help build on this work.


a) Raised the issue of there being insufficient primary school places in Ashley Ward and that this has become a priority for them.

b) Highlighted that the old Fairfield site was not an option as it was needed for the St. Barnabas expansion.

c) Suggested that we consider the trust approach; looking at the idea of schooling from 0 through to 19 and wondered whether we might want to play a role in the transition from primary to secondary school and become involved in how to shape secondary school experience.

d) Was also interested in us working with the existing provision and felt that we could operate as a group that could influence Fairfield and that our vision could help to make Fairfield more successful.


a) Warned that it was not guaranteed that the 7,000 houses for Lockleaze mentioned in the preferred option in the Local Development Framework Core Strategy might be filled by families and impact on Fairfield.

b) Said that given the current climate with regard to the housing market the 7,000 houses may not be built in the near future * possibly postponed until nearer 2026.



Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Below are the five questions that were asked at the meeting 17th June. As promised, I have put the questions up on the blog so that people can respond to them on here directly. All responses will be sent to the Bristol Education Initiative and then fed back to our group.

Why would you support a new school within our community?

What do you think a school on a human scale could offer that is not currently available? E.g. learning opportunities, relationships, safety etc.

What do you feel would be important to consider when designing the building?

What do you feel would be important to consider when liaising with the community?

What do you feel would be important to consider when designing the curriculum?

If you click on the link below you can read the article published in the Bristol Evening Post 11th June 2008 - Parents to set up their own secondary school. There are five reader comments and a comment column from the editor.


Friday, 30 May 2008

Meeting on June 17th

Urban Village Secondary School Group Meeting

on Tuesday June 17th

from 8pm til 10pm

at the Malcolm X Centre, Ashley Road, St. Pauls

James Wetz, former head of Cotham Secondary School will be presenting his Channel 4 Dispatches film, The Children Left Behind. (Be sure to bring popcorn.) James will be available for questions and there will be continuing discussions about setting up a small state secondary school based on the human scale education model he is advocating.

This is an opportunity to build on the success of the first meeting and begin to get the project underway. There is rapidly growing support for this school. Please try to come to the meeting to demonstrate your support or contact Ruth Myers at ruth@locallearning.org.uk to register your interest whether you can or can not attend.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Points for discussion raised from the first meeting

I have published all the points that were written down on the question sheets for people to consider for the next meeting. Some of the issues were raised and responded to during the meeting, but I think it is useful to have it documented and for those who were unable to attend the meeting to have the opportunity to learn about the interests and concerns raised at this early stage. I have copied the comments verbatim, though any typos are mine. There is no particular order to the comments, though I have tried to group comments that were on a similar theme.

Please feel free to respond to any of the comments through the blog and initiate discussion prior to the next meeting.

Responses from people attending 13th May 2008 meeting : Creating an Urban Village School for our Community

What features of Human Scale Education do you find attractive?

It’s small, child gets personal long term support from a teacher who has got to know them over a period of time
Small is beautiful – learning life skills
Size is important! Not getting lost in the machine
Continuity of contact with one teacher over time
Strong relationships, core stability
Contact with fewer teachers and visa versa to build relationship
Teachers getting to know learners – keeping communication channels open between home and school
Pupils are valued and known by staff
Support for child, teacher always available to help
Community engagement – education in a community context
Involved in community and not trapped in a big institution
School working as a community itself – coherent unit
Engagement in learning/ life/ community
Parental participation
More scope for involvement of parents in school
Testimony of children saying that they were safe
Thinking going into the structure of every aspect of the school, careful planning, wholesome approach to teaching
Small staff group – more able to meet and understand children
Good for vocational type lessons
Changing the curriculum – less emphasis on knowledge (more on learning skills)

What features of Human Scale Education concern you?
Potential lack of some facilities
Potential lack of some specialisms/ knowledge amongst staff
Access to resources? Facilities?
Will there be enough expertise?
Would the extra curricular activities be diminished? Not enough takers on groups, teams or lessons?
What are the implications of the curriculum?
Will standards and achievement be influenced?
Concerns about mixed ability teaching? Is it effective?
Can extreme ranges of ability be catered for?
Where it would be in Montpelier/ St. Pauls/ St. Werburghs
Selection criteria when over subscribed
Potential involvement in setting up
Not governmental support, could it really happen?
Surely we should be supporting the big schools rather than pulling resources away from them, i.e. fixing the big schools rather than starting something else
Fairfield School
Will small numbers on role mean that more limited funding is available to the school?
Too small classes can be a problem? We think there must be an optimum class size

What would be your priorities in making an urban village school?
September 2011
Contact with PGCE
Building lessons around the child and not fitting them into blocks
Wide variety of wholesome/ vocational lessons and activities
More flexibility for the school to determine curriculum
Parental participation, getting members of the community in to teach – demonstrate etc.
Integration – community involvement
Ensuring that the school is diverse and truly represents the community it will serve
Expertise – people like James to guide us through the system – advisory panel, steering group.
Making links with small schools – benefiting from their experience/ success
Inspirational headteacher!
Get political support for this project
More care for the children

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Step 2

The next meeting will be in early June and will involve a screening of the Channel 4 Dispatches film, The Children Left Behind. James Wetz will be available for questions and there will be an opportunity for discussion and a chance to get this project underway.

Here is the link to setting up a school. It is quite accessible and clearly lays out the procedure.

Below is part of the original draft of the flier that was going to be distributed. It provides more detail about the nature of the school we are hoping to make.

We are currently exploring the possibility of using the site of the Brooks dry cleaners on Sevier Street in St. Werburghs. The intention is to build a community school on a human scale with between 300 to 500 students, where all children would be known to their staff and peers helping them to feel a sense of attachment to the school. The Brooks site would be ideal especially with the close proximity of the proposed new mosque and access to local resources such as the City Farm, Climbing Centre, Scrap Store, Mina Road Park, the Narrowways, allotments, Circomedia, City of Bristol College and several local primary schools. The school would be accessible to all children within this community between the ages of 11 and 18. Eligibility would be based purely on proximity to the school and there would be no entrance examinations or fees.

Some points for discussion:

A curriculum developed in collaboration with students, parents, the QCA and the Children and Young Peoples Services would make the education meaningful and relevant and provide equal opportunities and equal access to the curriculum. Students’ involvement in the curriculum design helps to create a positive learning culture and permits students to actively opt into the education system increasing the chances of academic success.

Smaller classes of between 15 -20 students would allow for more 1:1 between students and teachers. Smaller classes would make it much easier for the needs of each individual to be recognised and for these needs to be accommodated in the teaching and learning. Students could be arranged in smaller groups and attached to a learning guide who would support them throughout their educational career at the school.

English as a Second Language could be offered to parents so that they can access the curriculum alongside their children. Parental involvement in the school, helping to design a curriculum that is relevant to all pupils is vital in helping to ensure its educational success.

We would want to create an environmentally sustainable education establishment where environmental issues are built into the curriculum, encouraging a sense of responsibility for both the immediate environment and global issues regarding sustainability. Because it would be a local school, all students and staff would be encouraged to travel by foot. A Travel Plan would be developed for staff travelling from further afield. Cross curricular opportunities would combine academic and vocational courses and qualifications to make a more holistic education providing students with both the practical skills and the theoretical background. The size of the school would permit the possibility of sharing facilities and resources as well as easy access to local amenities where various skills can be developed and pupils would get hands on experience.

The staff must be able to offer specialist subject(s) at ‘A’ level so that expertise filters down to younger years. High expectations from the outset would be made known to all students and links forged with the local universities to actively promote higher education through partnerships with the universities and modelling the practise of going on to higher education.

This would not be a faith school, though all faiths and cultures would be reflected and responded to through the curriculum and all given equal weighting.

We feel that this community greatly feels the loss of the old Fairfield school and that we need to see what wider community interest there might be in exploring this project and campaigning for it.