Hundreds of parents support new friends group

November 26 2018

Parents are setting up a friends organisation to raise funds for Castle School after a BBC2 documentary revealed the impact of cuts on day to day school life, both there and at Marlwood School in Alveston.

The programme shows Castle School’s efforts to make savings of £296,000 between September 2017 and August 2018. Senior staff face having their additional teaching and responsibility payments removed, with some of them facing up to a £6,000 salary cut in order to keep within the budget. 

The hard-hitting documentary has prompted parents to organise a friend’s group to support the school.  A PTA did previously exist but hasn’t been active for some years. The new group is likely to be called Friends of The Castle School - or FOC - in an attempt to attract local companies and people who aren’t parents to get involved.

Parents at both Castle and Marlwood school have rallied, sending supportive messages and donating cakes for the staff rooms.  Marlwood already has an established friend’s association, but at Castle it seems that the BBC2 programme has inspired parents to come together united in wanting to help their school. 

Sara Iles is one of the parents coordinating the relaunch. She said: "It's really clear that none of our schools have enough Government funding, so we, as parents, are determined to make a difference. It's not fair to the students or teachers if education suffers in this way."

The BBC2 programme also focused on Marlwood as it dealt with its first year of special measures after being rated as ‘Inadequate’ by OFSTED. The head at the time, James Pope, is shown struggling to make improvements due to funding cuts and falling pupil numbers. 

Will Roberts, CEO of CSET, the Castle School Education Trust which is responsible for four secondary schools and three primaries in South Gloucestershire, said: “There’s bits that I watch, and I wince, and think I wish that hadn’t happened but that’s the reality and people are respecting the honesty of it.” 

“What I felt, before I’d even had any contact with this programme, was that the public understanding of schools is limited, there’s a whole layer of complexity of decisions that heads have to make and people don’t know about it because we don’t show them.” 

“The danger is that schools would say it’s all fine everything’s ticking along when actually there are some challenges we’re having to face, and unless we show people then they can’t have a view or understand those decisions.”  

Mr Roberts says the response has been extraordinary, not only with messages of support coming in from local communities, but from schools across the country. 

The financial pressures at Castle and Marlwood schools are by no means unique, and schools in some areas are asking parents to make regular financial voluntary contributions, something  CSET has currently ruled out. 

At Marlwood, head James Pope considers whether the cuts in support staff have contributed to the behaviour and attendance issues which are shown in the film.  

Mr Roberts said: “It’s easy for us to say we’d like to have more money, if it was that simple it would have been done already.  We need to show how additional money would help.” 

He also says Marlwood is improving: “The school had an extremely difficult year in its first year of special measures.  We know as of now that the school is having a much a better year than last year as a result of all that painful work.”

“Parents are savvy, our intake is from 5 villages to the south of Alveston, all the parents talk to each other and parents know whether the school’s doing well or struggling a bit.  Putting it on national TV helps them to understand what they already knew about.  For our local community there were no surprises in the Marlwood programme.”

Marlwood school has recently had what Roberts describes as a ‘very positive’ monitoring visit from OFSTED. Del Planter, the new headteacher, says that ‘significant progress’ has been made since the documentary was filmed.   Meanwhile Castle School’s progress 8 scores are forecast to place it within the top third of schools in England.