A petition calling on the council to make changes to the reallocation system for secondary schools so that children with places at schools several miles from their home are given priority has been supported by more than 800 people.
This year, 147 children didn’t get a place at any schools in their catchment – a 38% rise on last year. Of these, 57 live in the catchment for the oversubscribed Dorothy Stringer and Varndean schools, which next year will also include a new school run by the University of Brighton.
But for children this year, the new school has not come in time and scores face being sent to schools where they will know hardly anyone else.
And while in previous years, the two schools have expanded their class sizes to accommodate the overspill, this year the numbers are too great and so they are being sent to the nearest school with spare places instead.
Parents living in the Varndean and Stringer catchment are due to meet with Brighton and Hove City Council tomorrow to discuss the issue.
One of them, Anoushka Visvalingam, said she and her daughter were “grief stricken” at finding out she didn’t have a place, and had instead been allocated Longhill.
Anoushka said: “They knew that this was going to be an issue. If you know that a catchment isn’t going to provide for the children living in it, it seems a mockery to have the catchment and the lottery when you knew that meant people are going to be losers.
“It’s only this one year that is suffering because it hasn’t been planned for properly and children suffering a lot.
“My daughter doesn’t understand it. We took her around to see all the schools that we told we were going and which her friends have now got into.
“Nine children out of 90 in her year didn’t get a place – but she doesn’t know any of them. She doesn’t understand why she would be sent to a school that she’s never heard of or looked at and she’s really upset.”
Anoushka said she didn’t want to comment about Longhill. She said: “We thought it was a lottery between the schools in your catchment. She’s going away from the rest of her community. Three children who live in our road who are going to catchment schools, she’s going to be going to a different school. Regardless of my opinion of the school, it’s devastating for her.
“Parents I’ve spoken to who also haven’t had a place are completely shocked and their children are really upset and crying all the time and they don’t know what to do.”
The chair of Brighton & Hove City Council’s children, young people and skills committee, Councillor Dan Chapman, said:
“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.
“We feel for all the parents who were not offered any of their preferred schools.
“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.
“Our children, young people and skills committee on Monday listened carefully to a deputation of parents from the Dorothy Stringer / Varndean catchment area.
“Our executive director for families, children and learning has agreed to meet representatives of the deputation to discuss their concerns.
“Parents who are unhappy with the school they have been offered can if they so wish lodge an appeal.
“The panel that hears appeals is independent of the council. It is not bound by the council’s admission priorities, and its decisions are binding on the council and on schools.
“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.
“I know that some parents have expressed concern over being allocated a place at alternative schools such as Longhill High School.
“This is the secondary school I attended, and I am grateful for the positive experience I had there and the opportunities that were opened up to me as a result.
“Longhill is making rapid improvements under new leadership and I am more than confident that it is well on its way to achieving a ‘Good’ Ofsted judgement when it is next inspected.
“The council has a legal duty to have enough school places available across the city as a whole for all residents who request one.
“As in all previous years we have fulfilled this legal duty.”