Brighton and Hove’s secondary schools could be way under capacity within a decade

High house prices are driving families out of Brighton and Hove, a councillor said during a debate about school places.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 3:17 pm
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Labour councillor Jackie O’Quinn made the comment as councillors were told that, within eight years, four local secondary schools would have too few new pupils to remain financially viable.

She spoke out at a meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee at Hove Town Hall on Monday (June 14).

The committee was told that parents were being invited to a series of events to share their views about managing projected falling pupil numbers at Brighton and Hove’s primary and secondary schools.

Councillor O’Quinn said: “My concern is a lot of housing that is built in the city is not affordable to families and that is going to continue to be the case.

“My fear is we’re going to carry on losing people for quite a long period of time because the city is too expensive for families.”

Councillor O’Quinn also spoke on behalf of her Labour colleagues who did not attend the meeting to enable social distancing to be maintained.

She said that Councillor Les Hamilton wanted to know about land earmarked for a new secondary school at Toads Hole Valley, in Hove.

The proposed school would have six forms of entry, or 180 pupils a year, for children from 11 to 18.

The council’s head of schools organisation Richard Barker said that planned new homes in Brighton and Hove were not expected to make a big difference to the demand for school places.

By 2030, projections suggested 11 per cent of secondary school spaces would be empty.

Green councillor Hannah Clare, who chairs the Children, Young People and Skills Committee, said that the council had a goal of building up to 1,500 affordable homes in the city.

She said: “Certainly, our focus as a council, as well as from the children, families and learning side, is to build as many affordable homes as we can.”

Councillor O’Quinn also raised concerns about the short timescale for publicising the eight public events and online participation. The online consultation is due to start on Monday June 21.

Mr Barker said that the council’s communications team would widely publicise the public events along with the ability to comment on the Have Your Say page on the council’s website.

The discussions were not a formal consultation so the council could extend the time period.

Conservative councillor Vanessa Brown said that her party supported the recommendations to carry out a pre-consultation programme until mid-July.

She said: “It’ll be interesting to receive the responses from the parents at the public meetings. This should help us when we come to discuss the possible options.

“What we are all agreed on is we cannot ignore the problem. It is very hard to run a successful school with less than 180 per year group.”

Councillor Brown asked what secondary school headteachers had said about the future.

The council’s executive director for families, children and learning, Deb Austin, said that she and her colleague Jo Lyons, the assistant director for education and skills, had met all heads.

She said: “There are a variety of views being expressed by heads, dependent on which schools they represent.

“So far, there is no consensus around the approach we should be taking.”

Consultation events are due to take place on

Wednesday June 23 – 10am

Thursday June 24 – 6pm

Tuesday June 2 – 2pm

Wednesday 30 June – 6pm

Thursday July 1 – 10am

Tuesday July 6 – 10am and 2pm

Wednesday July 7 – 6pm

People will also be able to respond from Monday June 21 until Sunday July 18 on the council’s website.

Those unable to share views via the website, can call 01273 293653 and leave a message. They will then be called you back and the council will arrange to take down a response.

Ms Clare added: said: “We want to make sure that all our schools are able to remain open through what may well be some difficult years in the medium to long-term future.

“Later this year we intend to run a formal public consultation on managing secondary school places in the city in future. But first we want to get a feel for what the priorities of our residents are.

“We are also discussing this with our schools, and will be asking them to make parents aware of the online events and how to give us their views.

“At this stage we’re not putting forward any specific proposals as to how admission arrangements could be changed. The feedback we get now will help us work towards a set of proposals we can put forward later in the year.”

In the short term, it is expected that across the city as a whole there will be more than enough places for all pupils needing a secondary school place in September 2022.

However, pupil number forecasts suggest that the Varndean/Dorothy Stringer and Patcham High catchment areas will both be oversubscribed.

The council will be reviewing its advice to parents to try and make it more clear how best to use their three preferences.

Any consideration of admitting extra pupils to these schools could only take place after the council knows how many pupils are expected to go to King’s School and Cardinal Newman, as well as how many families from Brighton and Hove are expected to go to schools in East Sussex and West Sussex.

The council will not be able to do a full analysis of this data until early 2022.