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University backs new school for Withywood

Press release issued: 16 June 2004

Withywood Community School in South Bristol looks set to be replaced by a new school that will raise educational standards and help revitalise the community it serves.

Withywood Community School in South Bristol looks set to be replaced by a new school that will raise educational standards and help revitalise the community it serves. 

The school will be an Academy – one of the independent but publicly funded, no-fees, all-ability schools the Government has been promoting since 2000. 

The project is being sponsored by the Society of Merchant Venturers, which has agreed to raise £2 million towards the construction costs, currently estimated at £25 million.  The Government will provide the balance and meet the running costs. 

Twelve academies have opened in the UK so far, including the City Academy, Bristol, which replaced St George’s Community College in September 2003. 

Charles Clarke, Secretary of State for Education and Skills, has told the Society of Merchant Venturers that its proposals have passed the first major hurdle and can progress to the detailed feasibility stage.  It is hoped this will lead to the signing of a funding agreement – the official green light for construction – by the end of 2005.

Education and Skills Secretary Charles Clarke said: “Academies are an integral part of the Government’s strategy to raise school standards in the most disadvantaged and challenging areas.  They are already making a difference across the country and the involvement of sponsors from the voluntary and business sector allows them to bring their skills and expertise to each academy.”

The new school is scheduled to open in September 2007.  It will be built on land adjacent to the existing school buildings, which will then be demolished.

The school will cater for 11- to 18-year-olds, with provision for post-16s achieved through collaboration with other schools in South Bristol.  It will be geared to bringing out the potential in pupils of all abilities by providing:

  • first-class buildings and high-tech facilities for teaching and learning;
  • a broad and balanced curriculum, with a specialism in business and enterprise;
  • radical approaches to tackling underachievement and promoting excellence;
  • innovative timetabling, strong support for teachers and new forms of governance.

Denis Burn, Senior Warden of the Society of Merchant Venturers, said: “The Society has been involved in education in Bristol since the 16th century.  We are keen to work with central Government, the City Council, Withywood Community School and, most importantly, the local community to create a school that will give young people all the opportunities that a great education can bring.

“The Society has close links with Colston’s Girls’ School and Colston’s Collegiate School.  Their heads will be involved in the planning of the academy.”

The University of Bristol is represented at senior level on the project board and its Graduate School of Education – number one in the UK according to The Times – will help to develop the school’s educational strategy.  The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Eric Thomas, said: “If we can help the community tackle educational under-attainment, we will.  This is a major opportunity for all the stakeholders to work together and make a real difference to young people’s life chances.”

Councillor Peter Abraham, Executive Member for Education at Bristol City Council, said: “Bristol City Council fully supports this proposal as part of our strategy for raising achievement across the city.  We believe the move to City Academy status will bring major benefits for the school and the wider community.”

Martin Cole, Chair of Governors at Withywood Community School, added: “The students and prospective students who live in and around the Withywood area deserve the best opportunities in education that can be provided.  This academy will provide a new building that, together with our dedicated staff, will raise student aspirations and attainment, enabling the young people of Withywood to take advantage of true opportunities to create the future for themselves that they and their parents desire.”

The school will play a key role in tackling social and economic deprivation by serving as an educational and community resource not only for its pupils but also for their families and other local residents.  It will form part of a wider regeneration initiative in Withywood.

More information about academies is available at

The Society of Merchant Venturers has had an important influence on Bristol for more than 450 years, for much of that time performing a vital role in regulating the seaborne trade of the city.  By the mid-19th century, the Society had developed a range of philanthropic interests.  Today it continues to work closely with the wider community and government of Bristol, and many of its members play a prominent part in the commercial life and institutions of the city.  The objectives of the Society include care of the elderly, promoting education, supporting youth activities and promoting the image and reputation of Bristol and the surrounding area.  More information is available at

More information about Bristol City Council is available at 


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