The search for a site for a new secondary school for east Brighton is now concentrated on two city centre locations, it has emerged.Parents of children who are set to make up the first intake of the new school which is due to open in September 2018, have been expressing concerns that the location is still not certain a year after it was first announced, even though details of possible catchments were released this week.
And some are anxious this means the University of Brighton sponsored free school may not hit its deadline, fears fuelled by a line in a council report published this week which said the DfE could not agree an opening date until the site was confirmed and time factored in for planning permission and construction.
But both the university and Brighton and Hove City Council say they are doing everything they can, and negotiations with the owners of two possible city centre sites continue. The council says it expects to announce the site in the autumn, when the official consultation on new catchments begins.
Justine Stephens, parent of two children at St Luke’s Primary School, which is right in the middle of the individual catchment area, said the lack of site announcement was creating a void.
She said: “The void has unsurprisingly been filled with assumptions, guess work, gossip and uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds mistrust.
“For any new school to be successful it must have the trust of its community. I have no doubt there are particular sensitivities, commercial or otherwise as to why they are not in a position to announce the location but communicating this in of itself would be helpful.
“Parents and carers of 2018 have been left confused and many are anxious. There’s a plan for a new school, new boundaries proposed, one option of which has the new school as the ‘only’ school in a particular catchment and a 148 page document from the council which includes a statement that the DfE will ‘try’ to open the school by 2018.
“The word ‘try’ when it’s the only school in one of the council’s proposed catchment areas combined with the lack of announcement as to it’s location are not the building blocks for community engagement and trust.”
Tom Bewick, chair of the city council’s children, young people, and skills committee, said: “We are looking at two city centre sites, and there are a lot of contingencies such as site acquisition and planning permission which are challenging to work out.
“But absolutely rest assured we will strain every sinew to make sure that the school is open by September 2018, and in the meantime there are enough school places across the city.
“It’s frustrating that, this not being a council maintained school means we are not as central to the process as we would normally be.
“But we continue to be supportive of the University of Brighton Trust, who we are in close contact with.”
A spokesperson for the University of Brighton said: “While it has been less than a month since the Department for Education gave approval for a new school, we understand how important the location is to young people and their parents and guardians.
“We have been liaising closely with Brighton and Hove City Council on potential sites and we will endeavour to finalise and announce our decision as soon as possible.”
It is widely rumoured that one of the sites is on the Brighton General Hospital site, land publicly identified for disposal by Sussex Community Trust in its asset plan, and included in all the possible catchments for the new school.
However, the Brighton General site is not ideal for a school and is not thought to be the preferred choice but the plan B. The location of the second site is still under wraps.
The three proposed catchments all hypothetically site the school at St Peter’s Church – but even though the church would make an attractive Hogwarts-style school, it’s understood the map marker was placed there as nobody could realistically think it could be a site for a school.
The new free school was first announced in March last year, in the run-up to the local elections in which the need for a new school was a political hot potato.
The University of Brighton Academies Trust applied to the Department for Education at the end of last May, which kickstarted negotiations. Another application was submitted in October, and was accepted on February 5 this year, progressing it to what is called the pre-opening stage.
The city’s secondary school allocations process is due to be shaken up to coincide with its opening, and details of three possible new catchment area schemes were released earlier this week.
Under the first option, each school, including the new school, would have its own catchment. For the new school, this covers Hanover, Queen’s Park and part of the North Laine, running up as far as Brighton Station. It does not include the area north of Elm Grove, or most of Whitehawk.