After months of negotiations, it’s been announced this morning that the site of the new secondary school for Brighton and Hove will be at Brighton General – but the prolonged wrangling means the school will now not be able to open next year.
Brighton and Hove City Council and University of Brighton Academies Trust confirmed today the hospital is the preferred site for the school, which will be called The Brighton and Hove Academy.
But crucially, it will not be open by next September, with the first intake now expected to start in September 2019 – and negotiations about exactly how the site can be used for the new school are still underway.
And it won’t be until next summer that the 2019 opening will be confirmed. Meanwhile, a consultation on the expected shake up of the school catchment system from 2019 is expected to start in October.
This year, a record number of pupils in the Varndean and Stringer catchment didn’t get a place at either school, and it’s rumoured the boundaries of the Longhill catchment will be moved west, with pupils living there also given the choice of the new school.
However, it’s not yet clear what, if any, changes to the admissions process will be made for 2018 now that the new school won’t be able to take some of the “extra” pupils from the central catchments.
One parent of a current year five pupil, who would have been applying for the new school to start in 2018, said was now afraid what this would mean for her daughter.
Leonie Shearing, who lives in Hanover, said: “My fear is that she will only get Longhill, which is bad because I don’t drive, none of her friends will be going there, and knowing someone who has to work with kids from Longhill I can honestly say the feedback was very depressing.
“I may well look at alternatives but I can’t afford private education. So – as an atheist do I convert my daughter to Catholicism to go to Newman? Do I look at the Steiner?
“I can’t cotton wool her but I refuse to put her in a predicament whereby she’s easy prey.”
Another parent of a current year 5 pupil, Carol Brailsford, said she was not surprised by the news the school would not be ready in time for a 2018 opening. She said: “I knew they’d never get it together for 2018.
“I think the council now needs to seriously concentrate its efforts on ensuring that there are enough school places within catchment for the September 2018 intake so there isn’t the same debacle as this year with children failing to get any of their chosen schools – and ostensibly having to travel miles each day, alone, to a school where they know no one.”
Chair of the council’s children, young people and skills committee, Councillor Daniel Chapman, said: “Councils are no longer able to open new schools themselves. We are therefore working in close partnership with the ESFA and the University of Brighton Academies Trust.
“We had hoped that the new school would be open in September 2018 but because of circumstances beyond our control this has been pushed back.
“I understand the high level of interest locally in this issue, and am pleased that the three partners have unanimously chosen their preferred site.
“I would emphasise that our pupil projections show that there will still be enough secondary school places across the city in September 2018 for all pupils applying.
“We recognise that parents need clarity on admissions arrangements for the future so we will be making an announcement at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Dr John Smith, interim Chief Executive of the University of Brighton Academies Trust said: “We believe that the Brighton General Hospital site will provide an ideal location for The Brighton and Hove Academy. We appreciate the efforts that have been made by our colleagues leading the negotiations to secure the site.
“As these discussions have taken longer than anticipated, we regret that it is no longer feasible to open the academy for September 2018. Our focus is on providing an inspiring new secondary school offering an excellent education for the young people of Brighton and Hove.
“Now that the preferred site has been agreed, we will work closely with Brighton and Hove City Council and the Education and Skills Funding Agency to agree a new opening date.”
Mike Jennings, Deputy CEO of Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are working closely with colleagues within the council, with University of Brighton Academies Trust and the Education and Skills Funding Agency.
“As the main provider of community health services in Brighton and Hove we are absolutely committed to retaining and enhancing local community health services within East Brighton and we are working on a project to establish these in a new, modern, flexible facility so that we can continue to meet local healthcare need. Within this project we are working with partners to explore the inclusion of a secondary school on site.
“We have carried out an initial options appraisal and we are working at pace to prove the viability of the project and conclude a business case for changes at Brighton General by next spring.”
Since confirmation of the opening of the new University of Brighton Academies Trust school the council has been working with the Education and Skills Funding Agency to identify and secure a site within the city.
Both the council and the trust said as recently as last month they were still intending to open in 2018 – but in the end, they could not meet the government’s deadline for this to happen.
The council’s forecasts of pupil numbers show that there will be enough secondary school places across the city in September 2018 for all pupils applying.