An announcement on the site of a new secondary school for Brighton is expected this month after negotiations with the owners of one of the two possible sites has progressed.
Although both land next to City College and Brighton General Hospital are still in the running, discussions over the availability of one of these sites means it is now the favoured option and it’s hoped a deal can be made within weeks, if not days.
Despite the considerable delays in securing a site, the school is still scheduled to open in September 2018, and parents will be applying for places for their current year 5 pupils later this year.
A spokesperson for the University of Brighton Academies Trust, which will be running the new school, said: “We are hoping there will be an announcement in March. Negotiations have progressed really well over the last month, and it’s particularly the council who are leading with the talks.
“We need to keep both sites as an option, but one is progressing more positively then the other. It’s about the negotiation of the purchase of the site in both cases, their availability and timescales.”
The chair of Brighton & Hove City Council’s children, young people and skills committee, Councillor Dan Chapman said: “We have been working closely with the University of Brighton Academies Trust to help them find a permanent site for their new school, which is due to open in September 2018.
“We hope to be able to make an announcement about this shortly.”
Some parents have expressed strong preferences for the Brighton General Hospital site, citing crime statistics which show that crime is significantly higher around City College than on Elm Grove. Others are worried that the City College site has no room for playing fields.
And some parents are opposed to any new academy school in principle, instead wanting the council to expand its existing schools rather than hand over school places to private companies.
However, the council insists that a new school is the best solution to an increasing school population, with the city’s most popular schools already oversubscribed.
Cllr Chapman said: “The council has a legal duty to have enough school places available across the city as a whole for all residents who request one.
“We have always tried our best to ensure parents are offered a place in their catchment school if they apply for one. However, we have never been able to guarantee this.
“Dorothy Stringer and Varndean have both taken their full number of students this year. They are operating at the limits of their capacity, and expanding them further is simply not practical.
“Parents who aren’t offered a catchment area place will automatically be entered in the reallocation pool for their first preference school if a place become available.
“We recognise the need for a new secondary school in the central Brighton area of the city, but government rules mean councils are no longer allowed to open new schools.”
The new school prompted proposals to shake up the school admissions system, with a lengthy consultation held on three options to change school catchments, with either individual catchments, two or three schools per catchment, or three or four schools.
However, following concerns from parents about the distance pupils might have to travel under the larger catchments, it was decided to instead tweak the existing catchments while giving pupils with free school meals priority for the first 15% of places in each school.
It’s proposed that the new school will fall in the same catchment as currently oversubscribed schools Dorothy Stringer and Varndean, which will be changed to include part of central Brighton but lose Coldean, which will now be part of the catchment for Brighton Aldridge Community Academy.
This has angered parents in the new BACA catchment, who will now have no choice but the academy unless they are eligible for and succeed in getting one of the 15% free school meal places.
Members of a community stakeholder working group set up to get feedback from parents and other stakeholders were told last month that the Univeersity of Brighton Academies trust has set up a curriculum group which includes the heads of local primary schools, including St Luke’s, Elm Grove and Fairlight to tailor what is offered in the new school for the catchment area.
Meanwhile, 84% of pupils in Brighton and Hove applying for secondary school places next year learnt today that they have been offered their first preference school – up from 81.35% last year.
In line with the council’s published arrangements, those who were not offered a place at one of their preferred schools were offered places at the nearest school to their home address that had places available.
These included 57 pupils in the Dorothy Stringer / Varndean catchment area who expressed a preference for their catchment area schools.
Appeals relating to school place allocations are heard by an appeals panel that is independent of the council. The panel is not bound by the council’s admission priorities, and its decisions are binding on the council and on schools.