Bristol should be proud of these schools
ALL my professional teaching life has been committed to state education and I am passionate about providing the very best education for children. Having previously taught in five other local authorities, I remember being surprised by the level of mistrust in education I found when I moved to Bristol, including from some within the education community itself. Five years ago, the mistrust was focused on Academies; today, it is on Free Schools.
From some quarters, the opposition is pernicious and there is a danger it will hamper our progress as a city.
During the summer, Bristol City Council announced the proposal to create a permanent home for CPS, a Free School, in the basement floors of the Central Library.
Free Schools bring capital investment, making them an attractive option for groups who want to realise a creative educational vision.
The council rightly describes it as a 'bold' proposal; bold both because it addresses Bristol's pressing shortage of primary school places, and because it accepts that partnership is the way forward, with the council working alongside schools of every stamp: Free Schools, Academies and local authority community schools.
If the proposal is successful, CPS will become a two-form entry school, eventually accommodating 420 pupils. Allowing for a small number from outside Bristol, it will thus meet just under 10 per cent of Bristol's 4,200-place shortfall.
However, the recent press and public interest has brought a number of feelings to the surface, many of which seem to have their origin in that old mistrust.
Some are still convinced that BCCS and CPS are private, although they are state schools, funded by the taxpayer. (The fee-paying Bristol Cathedral School closed more than five years ago). Some suggest they serve the élite, favouring white, middle-class children. Some say we should restrict CPS admissions to a narrow catchment area, meeting a shortage of places in nearby communities such as Hotwells; conversely, others deny there is any such shortage and want us to move out of the city centre (difficult for a school linked to the cathedral!).
As with any discussion over school admissions and demographics, the full picture is complicated and nuanced.
Perhaps it is time to set the record straight.
Both BCCS and CPS specialise in music; from the western classical tradition, from other places and cultures, and very much including popular music and jazz.
Like all Free Schools, CPS is built around a vision: we aim to nurture musical talent, encouraging the development of social skills, confidence, discipline and creativity.
It would be a nonsense to create a school designed to attract aspirant musicians – but only if they live within 500 metres of our gates! Cathedral Primary School's city-wide admissions policy naturally corresponds to our city-wide vision.
There is another reason, too, for eschewing a narrow catchment area.
Popular Free Schools with very local admissions criteria are often deeply unpopular with other local schools.
There is a real danger that they destabilise neighbouring – perhaps under-subscribed – schools. If CPS were to accept only children living nearby, that would make partnership, at best, challenging.
So we welcome children from across Bristol, North Somerset and parts of South Gloucestershire. Realistically, we expect the number from outside the city to be very small: in our first year, there is one child from North Somerset in our 30-strong Reception and 29 (97 per cent) from Bristol. Almost three-quarters (22 per cent) are from BS2-8, the postcodes around the centre.
CPS and BCCS are faith schools with a distinctive Christian ethos – we make no apology for that. However, we welcome children from families of all faiths and none.
There is no academic selection: CPS places are awarded by random allocation, overseen by an independent body.
Our GCSE results are outstanding – but certainly not because all who come to us have an excellent record of prior achievement. We have welcomed some very disadvantaged pupils as transfers from other schools where the particular strengths of BCCS could help them thrive. Students of all abilities achieve well.
At BCCS today, 29 per cent of pupils come from black and minority ethnic groups (BME) – a figure similar to Bristol overall and higher than the national average.
The number of students receiving free school meals is growing. As far back as 2010, Ofsted rated us 'good' for community cohesion, positively promoting equality of opportunity and tackling discrimination.
We are not complacent and work in partnership with Bristol schools with acknowledged expertise in this field, such as The City Academy and Merchants' Academy, and through initiatives such as Bristol Voices, which promotes singing in primary schools.
The students, staff, parents and governing body are rightly proud of a diverse, tolerant, friendly and successful community.
Early indications are that CPS may become even more diverse. Exactly a third of Reception children are BME, while 23 per cent are eligible for free school meals.
Ultimately, of course, at both CPS and BCCS, we can only give places to those who apply. May I encourage parents and carers from all backgrounds and from anywhere in Bristol: if you would like a place for your child, please do apply.
We are committed to partnership with families, the local authority and other schools and agencies, because that is in the best interests of Bristol children.
The two cathedral schools form a community that welcomes everybody.
I am proud of their diversity. What is more, they are very happy schools.
Bristol should be proud of them, too.