A Brighton secondary school is urging the new council chief executive to take three steps to stop a £26 million investment from going to waste.
Peter Kyle, chairman of the governors at the Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA), sent an open letter welcoming Penny Thompson.
Her appointment as the new chief executive of Brighton and Hove City Council was ratified at the council meeting last Thursday (25 October).
Mr Kyle wrote to her pointing out that three council decisions were putting the school’s viability in jeopardy and wasting taxpayers’ money.
He said that the council had ended its support for the school bus just before Falmer High School became BACA.
It had also made road access harder than necessary by refusing to allow cars to use a short cut under the railway bridge from Lewes Road to Lucraft Road in Moulsecoomb.
This would prevent people from having to drive through the narrow streets of the neighbouring estate.
The third obstacle was restricting the academy to a catchment area that was too small.
Mr Kyle said in his letter to Penny Thompson: “Given your background in children’s welfare we hope you will share our concern about policies and actions that are currently leading to a waste of precious public investment in our city’s children.
“The need for more classroom space in the city has been widely reported this year.
“Much has been written about the need for more primary school places now to cater for a rise in population that will reach secondary age in four to five years’ time.
“However, we write out of concern for those children of secondary school age now who will be competing for university places or facing the ever tougher jobs market by that time.
“Brighton Aldridge Community Academy’s state of the art secondary school campus opened just over a year ago, following a £26 million investment in buildings and equipment.
“It has made a successful start. In two years since the academy replaced Falmer High School, GCSE exam results have shown an 86 per cent improvement.
“Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Schools Minister Lord Hill and Brighton and Hove Mayor Bill Randall have all visited BACA in the last month and remarked on the excellent facilities.
“As academy governors and as ordinary taxpayers we are deeply frustrated, given this investment, that 33 per cent of BACA’s classroom places are unfilled in the current year.
“We started this academic year with 633 students on roll against a capacity of over 1,000.
“This figure is almost identical to the number on roll at the end of BACA’s first year as an academy – 632.
“According to correspondence we have had with your officers, figures for predecessor Falmer High School show that at no stage in the final eight years of that school was any year group full either.
“The academy has taken a number of steps to improve the situation, extensively marketing our open days and also taking more radical initiatives, such as launching the Aldridge Cricket Academy to attract sporting students from a wider area, and providing the Brighton and Hove Bilingual School with a temporary home.
“We wholeheartedly support the principal of parents’ and students’ preference in selecting schools but when council decisions are made that prevent a level playing field and result in scarce investment in education in the city going to waste, this cannot be right.”
Mr Kyle spelt out the bus situation, saying: “Immediately prior to the academy opening in 2010 the bus route used by students serving the Falmer site was axed by the council on financial grounds despite being popular and well-used by students.
“Two other routes taking students from BACA’s catchment area to other schools further afield remain in service.
“Parents attending open evenings have cited this as a deterrent to their children taking up places at the academy and feedback from existing students highlights that the lack of public transport deters them from attending after-school clubs as well.”
He said that the withdrawal of the bus service had led to fewer students travelling to BACA than when it was Falmer High which had 693 pupils in 2010, adding: “The cost of the bus service should be judged against the financial and environmental cost of bussing student longer distances from the area to other schools and the cost of unused classrooms.”
Mr Kyle said: “The academy, supported by the Bilingual School, has also appealed for better road access to the site to be created, initially by allowing the use of an existing bridge underpass.
“This could open up the site to some car traffic directly from the Lewes Road rather than all traffic having to drive through the neighbouring housing estates.
“In spite of strong support from Brighton and Hove Albion FC as well, who use parking adjacent to the academy site on match days, numerous discussions and letters to your officers resulting in promises of action which have never been followed through, the matter remains unresolved.”
Mr Kyle added: “Bounded by Stanmer Park and the Downs to the north, and Brighton University and Amex Stadium complex to the east, the catchment area set for BACA is currently too small to fill its available spaces.
“We are not the only school facing this.
“The academy has input into recent consultations on this city-wide issue but that review has now been halted without any resolution being produced.
“We accept that academies are a central government programme that local authorities do not necessarily agree with.
“But they are also taxpayer funded local community schools serving local children. And in BACA’s case a fast improving one.
“Given that the council manages the admissions process and catchment areas for all state schools in the city, which includes the academies, and sets the corresponding school transport arrangements, you have a central role in avoiding this waste of scarce resources which damages the prospects of Brighton’s young people.
“We hope that with your appointment actions to end this waste will be taken quickly.”
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