Parents have threatened to sue Brighton and Hove City Council in the row over school catchment areas.
The threat was made by a deputation of parent to the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee yesterday afternoon (Monday 13 November).
One parent, Dave Boyle, who spoke for a group of parents at the meeting, said: “I’m making this deputation on behalf of our signatories, who are parents in the area north of Elm Grove but also on behalf of other parents in West Hove who have children affected by this move.
“And, beyond these, the 2,600 people and counting who have signed two petitions that will come before the full council in December.
“Our concerns are driven by the fact that our children will lose choice and be given a school located far away from the community they live and splitting their primary schools and friendship groups in two.
“I cannot stress enough that at no stage have we been concerned with the quality of the schools our children are to be offered.
“The city is well served by good secondary schools. We cannot say the same of the catchment system.
“It is a testament to bad planning and the failure to grasp the situation – and more latterly a failure to deliver the central policy of a new school in a timely fashion.
“We recognise that these are very difficult issues, where the council’s autonomy is constrained by national policy, but such power as the council has had in the last decade has been very poorly exercised.
“Few decisions can have as much effect on an area as school catchments. Decisions regarding them should to be based on good data and active participation of elected members and schools as well as parents and carers.
“Unfortunately, we believe the School Organisation Working Group have let down the committee and the city.
“The report you agreed at your last meeting says the working group recommended the proposals currently out for consultation ‘after careful consideration and lengthy deliberations’.
After examining documents we received following a ‘freedom of information’ request, we could not disagree more.
“The Working Group met on (Tuesday) 11 July – already months too late to enable meaningful analysis and broader consultation – and considered a proposal to move the area from the County Hospital down to the sea and along to the Marina, into the Longhill catchment.
“The initial data provided by officers showed that this would enable the Varndean and Stringer catchment to catch.
“Yet according to what we were told at a consultation meeting last week by council officers, a ‘feeling’, based on ‘anecdotal evidence’ took hold that this wasn’t satisfactory.
“No minutes were taken at this critical meeting.
“A second meeting two weeks’ later proposed instead the area north of Elm Grove.
“They didn’t compare like with like and didn’t model the impact of sibling links for both proposals.
“Despite the new proposal leaving more children in the Varndean and Stringer catchment than the original plan, they recommended it all the same, then sat on the recommendation for six weeks, informing schools two days before the report was made public.
“The city needs better catchment areas – and our schools and pupils deserve so much better.
“The city needs to hold off until the new school has – finally – opened, when any changes can be longstanding.
“The alternative is more tweaking, more anguish and more uncertainty, only to reconvene to do it all over again in two years’ time.
“In the meantime, we urge the members of the working group who will make the decision about what comes before you in January to engage with and take seriously the offer from the respective secondary schools to have additional form entries.
“It has been said that these offers have been made after the schools had been saying the opposite to the council.
“We have yet to find out when the schools were last asked directly as part of the catchment area modelling process.
“Even so, a more telling example of the dysfunction that is the city’s catchment area policy would be harder to find.
“It has also been said that these offers will be considered as part of the consultation process. But four weeks have passed since that offer was made and there are just seven weeks left – including Christmas and new year – before the report that comes back to this committee is finalised.
“Time is running out to seriously consider it and do the necessary budgetary work needed to make it happen.
“We know that the council is fearful of legal challenge if it does do something but we regret to inform you should that something be these proposals, it will guarantee a legal challenge from parents in the areas affected as we sincerely doubt that they meet the test laid down in the School Admissions Code that catchments be ‘fair, clear and objective’.
“These proposals are trumpeted as enabling greater certainty but that neglects to state the bald facts: in order to guarantee choice and certainty for the majority, our children are to be denied choice, denied access to schools in their community, denied the chance to go to secondary school with friends in their community, denied the chance to face this most important choice to date in their lives full of hope and expectation and instead contemplate 7am starts and earlier in schools miles away from their friends and miles away from their homes.
“This is not fair. They are kids, not commuters.”