‘One choice is no choice’ say Brighton parents over catchment areas

The new school catchment area plan for Brighton and Hove SUS-160914-093026001
The new school catchment area plan for Brighton and Hove SUS-160914-093026001

The council has been asked to reconsider its secondary school catchment areas to give parents a real choice.

Sam Fearn, from Coldean, handed in a petition with 1,360 signatures to Brighton and Hove City Council at Hove Town Hall yesterday (January 26).

The council is reviewing the current catchments – some of which may contain only one school while others will have two and possibly three.

This comes after a potential shake-up of catchment areas was scrapped last year, largely due to the fact that there was no clear preferred option, and that parents in Fiveways were unhappy that popular schools Dorothy Stringer and Varndean were split up in all options.

The council decided to stick to its current catchment plan keeping the two schools together in the same catchment, with the addition of the University of Brighton free school set to open in 2018.

The petition said children would have just one choice in the catchments for BACA (Moulsecoomb and Bevendean including the Coombe Road area), Longhill (Whitehawk, Woodingdean, Ovingdean, Rottingdean and part of Saltdean), PACA (Portslade and Mile Oak) and Patcham (Patcham, Hollingbury and Westdene).

In a speech to councillors Ms Fearn said: “We are objecting to the unfairness of the current catchments and the working party’s proposal to place the new University of Brighton secondary school into the central catchment from 2019.

“If Brighton and Hove City Council take forward these proposals, they will not be honouring their responsibility to treat all children in the city equally.

“This seems obvious for at least three reasons. Firstly and fundamentally, how can it be fair for some children to have a choice of three schools while others have no choice at all?

“How does refusing choice to one third of the city’s children deliver the principles of equality that this council claims to support.

“Many people believe that more effort should be made for less advantaged areas of the city to address the imbalance in opportunities facing the city’s children.

“We are only seeking the same treatment for all children.

“Either all of our children have a choice or none do. Anything else is an injustice.

“The council commissioned a report published by the University of Brighton in 2016.

“It’s top recommendation was ‘redrawing the current geographical catchment area boundaries to try to ensure that all parents and students have a genuine choice of at least two secondary schools.’

“The recommendation could not have been clearer.

“Secondly, let’s recognise critical differences in the catchments. The ones with the most choice are home to greater wealth and less deprivation and can be said to shout the loudest.

“In comparison, the single school attachments, including Coldean, Moulsecoomb, Bevendean, Whitehawk and Woodingean are more deprived and have a quieter voice.

“Normal working families can no longer afford to live in the central catchment.

“How do these plans promote social mobility and the truly comprehensive education system that the working party claimed as one of its goals?

“Thirdly, children are different, schools are different. What suits one child might not suit the next.

“Some school are able to offer more GCSE subject choices, some less.

“For many children in the city, school is their only route to better prospects and a better future. To reduce their options of schools and of subjects is to reduce their life chances altogether.”

“To the working party we say, ‘Listen to the views of people across the city.’ We seek new catchment proposals that ensure a genuine choice for all children.

“To the councillors we ask, ‘will you agree that these proposals are unfair and that the degree of choice and opportunity should be equal for every child in the city.’”

The council agreed that the catchment area working party would consider the petition in its review.