City's school place system shake-up could see catchment areas adjusted

A fresh shake up of secondary school catchment areas is on the cards in a bid to balance out pupil numbers.

Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 9:23 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 9:26 pm

This year, more than 60 children living in one of Brighton’s most popular catchments weren’t allocated a place there – while schools in other catchments were undersubscribed.

Now, Brighton and Hove City Council wants to find out what parents, carers and governors want from the school place system before drawing up plans.

Possible changes include scrapping the lottery system when allocating places to out of catchment children – and changing the catchment boundaries.

This year 62 children who live within the Varndean and Dorothy Stringer catchment areas did not secure places at the schools.

A series of virtual pre-consultation meetings have been scheduled in the last week of June and first week of July to gather ideas.

A report due to go before the Children Young People and Skills Committee on Monday, June 14, says: “In broad terms, the council wants to know if it’s more important to allow parents every opportunity to maximise the prospect to attend a school that they want or if it is important to ensure children attend a local school to where they live.

“It will be interesting to know if residents think that the catchment areas should be adjusted, and the council also wants to know what other factors should be taken into consideration.

“It will also be helpful to know what additional information may be needed to better inform a future public consultation.”

Brighton and Hove schools currently offer 2,560 school places to pupils in year seven.

In September 2022, 2,431 children are forecast as seeking places in year seven, and 2,436 in 2023.

The council is not putting forward any specific proposals at this stage, but this is expected to change following public engagement.

Before making any changes, the committee papers state that the council wants to 'develop a strong consensus' across the city. This follows the Schools Adjudicator siding with governors when they objected to two primary schools reducing their admission numbers.

The report said: “There is clear evidence of what factors the adjudicator will have regard to in reviewing future admission arrangements, including the primacy of parental preference and the need to provide strong evidence demonstrating the likely risk of closure of another, undersubscribed, school if there are too many surplus places in the city.

“As a result of this, the council is actively seeking to develop a strong consensus across the city about what action should be taken and reduce the likelihood of a governing body or parent of a prospective pupil objecting to the admission arrangements set that address this issue.

“A dialogue has already started with secondary school headteachers to explore on a school by school basis the issues from their perspective, and this will develop into more collective discussions as a group and with the inclusion of governing bodies.”

Brighton and Hove was one of the first areas to adopt a controversial lottery system, designed to ensure all children have an equal chance of getting places in popular schools.

But when those schools are oversubscribed, as happened this year, youngsters who don’t get a catchment place are separated from their classmates and placed in schools all over the city.

The report raises the possibility of prioritising children who live outside catchment areas based on how close they live to the school.

However, there’s no suggestion the lottery system would be scrapped for youngsters within a school catchment area.

This year 62 children who live within the Varndean and Dorothy Stringer catchment areas did not secure places at the schools.

Next year 651 youngsters who live within the catchment area are expected to apply for the 630 places at the two popular secondary schools.

Patcham High School is also expected to be over-subscribed, with 237 pupils applying for 225 places.

Lucy Elliott’s daughter lives within the Stringer and Varndean catchment areas but did not secure a place at either school despite living just ten minutes walk away.

Instead, Mrs Elliott’s daughter, who is still ten years old, will have to catch two buses to Longhill School in Rottingdean twice a day.

She is concerned any changes to catchment areas will not address the issue.

Mrs Elliott said: ” It seems that they are making it more unfair, not more helpful to any children. If any changes are being made, it’s for the worse, not the better.

“You can’t have a distance to school priority for out of catchment kids and not in catchment kids. This shows how little they’ve listened to us parents and how again they think they can do as they please without question or consequence.”

The council is the admissions authority for six of the ten secondary schools in Brighton and Hove.

The two faith schools, Cardinal Newman Catholic School and the King’s School, set their own admissions criteria giving priority to Christian children.

Cardinal Newman also gives priority to Catholic children at its ten feeder primary schools, which include seven in Brighton and Hove, two in East Sussex and one in West Sussex.

Both Portslade Aldridge Community Academy (PACA) and Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA) can set their own catchment policies if they wish.

If the committee approves the meetings, they will take place via Microsoft Teams on the following dates:

Wednesday, June 23 – 10am

Thursday, June 24 – 6pm

Tuesday, June 29 – 2pm

Wednesday, June 30 – 6pm

Thursday, July 1 – 10am

Tuesday, July 6 – 10am

Tuesday, July 6– 2pm

Wednesday, July 7 – 6pm