Brighton parents say they are losing faith that a new school will open next year as a site has still not been secured – but the council insists it still expects to take its first pupils in September 2018.
Brighton and Hove City Council remains in “complex” talks with the owners of two sites, one by City College and the other by Brighton General Hospital – but despite saying it hoped to make an announcement in March, none is yet forthcoming.
And meanwhile, another set of proposals for a shake up in catchment areas for 2019 is being prepared which parents will be asked to have their say on in October – with rumours that the new school will be put in the same catchment as Longhill which will take pupils from the east of the existing Stringer and Vardean catchment.
The new school, which will be run by the University of Brighton Academies Trust, will not have any catchment in its first year, and accept applications from across the city – but some parents of year 5 pupils say they are reluctant to consider the school as so little information about it is available.
One parent, Carol Brailsford who has a daughter in year 5 at Elm Grove, said: “I’m certainly not going to apply for a school that I can’t look around, with a prospectus that I can’t read and a headteacher I can’t meet.
“My daughter and her year were going to be the guinea pig year but I think everyone’s given up on the new school. Even the emails we signed up for information have gone quiet.”
A council spokesman said: “We’re still looking at two sites. Complex negotiations are ongoing, and we will make an announcement as soon as we can
“Our expectation remains that the new school will open in September 2018.
“We recognise the need to change the current admission arrangements to accommodate the new school and the increase in secondary school pupil numbers.
“The council’s cross-party working group on school admissions will be considering a number of options over the next few months. This work will take into account feedback from last year’s public engagement exercise on secondary admissions, as well as more recent representations and petitions.
“We expect to start formal public consultation this October about secondary school admissions arrangements for September 2019.
“By this time we will know where a permanent site for the trust’s proposed new secondary free school will be located.
“The trust has indicated that it is keen to be part of the Brighton and Hove family of schools and so will look to be part of our full admission arrangement from September 2019.”
A spokesman for the University of Brighton Academies Trust said: “Brighton and Hove City Council is responsible for providing a site for the new school, which must be approved by the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency.
“Once the site is secured the ESFA is responsible for funding the required building or refurbishment costs.
“The university and trust are offering comments and suggestions on the prospective sites, but we are not able to directly influence the negotiations between the landowners and the council.
“We know our colleagues at the council are working very hard to progress discussions with the prospective site owners, and remain fully committed to the delivery of the new school.”
The new school was first announced in March 2015, and approved by the government the following February. In March 2016, it was revealed that the search had been narrowed to the two sites still under contention, with City College then believed to be the frontrunner.
However, more than a year later, it is still not clear which site will be used. The delay also led to the postponement of plans to shake up the city’s catchments, which were due to undergo a comprehensive overhaul last year in time for September 2018 applications.
Three new catchment schemes options were proposed, ranging from one catchment per school to big catchments with three or four schools. A working group came up with a fourth option, with one or two schools per catchment and pupils on free school meals having a higher priority for 15% of places to address the disparity in school neighbourhoods.
Following an outcry from parents in the large catchment feeding just BACA who are angry at their lack of choice of school, it’s rumoured that BACA and Patcham may go into the same catchment.
And the new school, which under the last published proposals would be in a three-school catchment with Dorothy Stringer and Varndean, could instead be put in the same catchment as Longhill, which would be expanded to the west.