Support for free school withdrawn as school catchment area changes scrapped

The proposed changes to secondary school catchment areas from 2019 to 2021
The proposed changes to secondary school catchment areas from 2019 to 2021

Controversial changes to secondary school catchment areas is unlikely to go ahead, as pupil numbers are not expected to increase as much as initially thought.

And Brighton and Hove City Council said it has withdrawn its support for a new secondary school run by the University of Brighton after city headteachers said the extra capacity was not needed.

Daniel Chapman, chair of the children's committee

Daniel Chapman, chair of the children's committee

Brighton and Hove City Council’s children’s committee is to discuss the results of consultations on school catchments at next Monday’s meeting (January 15).

As well as school catchment areas, the six-week consultation also looked at reducing pupil admissions at five primary schools from September 2019.

Two schools, Hertford Infant School and Benfield Primary School, have avoided admission number reductions after campaigns opposing the move.

But three will see their intake reduced by 30 places: West Hove Infant School (Connaught Road site), Moulsecoomb Primary and Coombe Road Primary.

The secondary school catchment area proposals for 2019/2021 would have seen the catchment area for Dorothy Stringer and Varndean School narrowed, with children in the north Elm Grove area moved to Longhill, and some West Hove children in the Blatchington Mill and Hove Park catchment area moved to the Portslade Aldridge Community Academy.

But the council said: “Since the agreement to consult on changes to catchment areas last September, the cross party group that oversees admission arrangements has considered the feedback provided through the consultation as well as new information becoming available and new offers being made by the city’s secondary schools.”

It said the recommendation to scrap the catchment area changes was largely informed by the following:

- A summary of the responses to the consultation, which showed a majority of respondents to be against the proposed changes to catchment areas

- New annual pupil number projections based on data gathered in October 2017 point to a smaller rise in pupil numbers city-wide over the next few years than was indicated by the projections from October 2016 that informed the recent consultation

- Blatchington Mill is permanently increasing its intake by one form of entry as of September 2018

- Varndean has confirmed to the council that it wishes to permanently increase its admissions numbers by an extra 30 pupils per year

- Patcham High has confirmed to the council that it wishes to permanently increase its admissions numbers by an extra 10 pupils per year as of September 2019

- Dorothy Stringer has confirmed to the council that it is willing to provide 30 additional places in September 2019 and 2020 on a temporary basis

The report to the children’s committee follows the recommendation of the working group that the additional places outlined at Dorothy Stringer and Patcham should be agreed, and that the current catchment areas should remain unchanged in 2019.

The request from Varndean for a permanent increase in its admissions numbers was made after the most recent meeting of the working group. They had previously expressed a willingness to expand on a temporary basis. The recommendation in the report is to agree the temporary expansion. The request for a permanent expansion will be considered separately.

Councillor Dan Chapman, chair of the children, young people and skills committee, said: “I’d like to thank the hundreds of residents, parents, teachers and governors who took part in the consultation, which has helped the cross-party group make its recommendations.

“The position we are in now with secondary school admissions has changed from when we agreed the consultation in September 2017.

“Since mid-September, there is new information with pupil projections and Blatchington Mill has permanently expanded by one form of entry. Patcham High and Varndean plan to permanently expand as well. Dorothy Stringer has indicated its willingness to take extra pupils on a temporary basis.

“In many ways the situation is better now than three months ago, but it’s not perfect. I welcome the willingness of Dorothy Stringer and Varndean to take extra pupils, but I am also aware that even with the additional places they won’t be able to ‘catch’ all the pupils in their area.

“With all this in mind, in the circumstance we are now facing, I believe that the benefits of leaving the catchment areas as they are outweigh the possible benefits of the changes that were proposed.

“It is clear that these changes and proposals would have a very significant impact on the planned University of Brighton Academies Trust free school at the Brighton General Hospital site.

“We have a duty to take a city-wide view on school admissions.

“There are a number of newly developed factors we must now consider. These are the reduction in the number of children entering our secondary schools over the next few years as shown in the new school census data, the increase in pupil admissions numbers at Blatchington Mill, and the proposed increases at three of our other oversubscribed schools.

“Taking these changes in circumstances into consideration our administration believes that the new free school, as proposed in 2015, is no longer in the best interests of the city as a whole.

“We have therefore advised the University of Brighton Academies Trust that we have withdrawn the in-principle support for the new school.

“Our withdrawal of support is a recognition of the changed circumstances in the city, and not in any way a reflection on the excellent educational services the University of Brighton Academies Trust provides.

“I would like to thank the University of Brighton Academies Trust for stepping in to make the offer to sponsor the new school, and for all the work they have done with us on this project.”

Richard Bradford, chair of the Brighton & Hove Secondary Headteachers Group and Dorothy Stringer head, said: “We welcome the council’s willingness to take on board the feedback we have given them about school places, and their flexibility in responding to a rapidly changing situation.

“We would also like to acknowledge the sensitivity and partnership spirit with which the University of Brighton has worked on their free school project, and to thank them for all their work on this.

“However, given the circumstances the city now faces we agree with the view that there is no longer a need for a new secondary school in the city.

“We are committed to working in partnership with the council to deliver new school places, and to ensuring the long-term sustainability of all the city’s secondary schools.”

The University of Brighton said: “The University of Brighton, through its Academies Trust, was invited by Brighton & Hove City Council to act as sponsor for the new proposed Free School in the city back in 2015.

“The University did so in good faith and we have made good progress in developing plans for a school with strong links to the local community in the centre-east of the city and a curriculum that builds on the strengths of local primary schools.

“We are aware that new demographic data and the proposal to expand spaces at existing secondary schools in the city have now raised questions over the demand for a new school, and we note that the council has indicated that it no longer wishes to support the new secondary school.

“The final decision regarding the opening of the new school rests with the Department for Education, and we shall be liaising with colleagues at the Council and DfE over the coming days and weeks.”