Three secondary schools in Brighton and Hove want to offer more places for students as concerns grow about proposed catchment area changes.
Dorothy Stringer, Varndean and Blatchington Mill are all willing to take an extra “form of entry” – or class of 30 pupils – to start in September 2019.
Their offer has been made as Brighton and Hove City Council carries out a statutory consultation as education officials try to match where pupils live to where schools are. Part of the challenge is an increase in secondary school pupil numbers
On Monday (9 October) the council started its consultation on “light touch” changes, reducing the size of the joint Dorothy Stringer and Varndean catchment.
The chair of governors and head teachers at both schools issued a joint statement this morning (Friday 13 October) with their proposal and the reasons for it.
Jenny Poore, chair of governors at Stringer, and the school’s head Richard Bradford, along with Varndean’s chair of governors Alex Marsh and head William Deighan said: “The chairs of governors of Dorothy Stringer and Varndean Schools, with their respective head teachers, held a meeting on Friday 6 October on a wide range of issues and have released the following statement.
“Both governing bodies have had a chance to consider the proposed ‘light-touch temporary’ changes as part of the current secondary school catchment area consultations and will respond in further detail in due course.
“We are very conscious of the pressures on school places in the city’s catchment areas and the anxiety that families experienced in last year’s admissions round.
“That said, these latest proposals – to apply to year 7 starters from September 2019 – will have a significant impact on the families in the community that Dorothy Stringer and Varndean serve and the primary and junior schools with whom we work.
“Given that these proposals are temporary, applying for a two-year period only, we believe that this change in catchment areas will unnecessarily unsettle our school communities in Brighton and Hove, adversely impacting accessibility and travel time to schools.
“This is at odds with our belief that successful school communities are built up over time. Continual change makes our duty of care to families more challenging than it needs to be.
“With this in mind, it is the intention of both Dorothy Stringer School and Varndean School to offer to increase their published admission number (PAN) by one form of entry.
“We do this in the interests of providing greater clarity and stability to families in our current catchment area and help avert temporary turbulence across the city’s school communities.
“Both schools have precedent of increased numbers in previous years to ease similar temporary pressures in the city.
“In light of this offer to help facilitate the temporary bulge in pupil numbers, we will be discussing our proposal with the local authority as to what investment and additional resources and infrastructure would be needed to facilitate this temporary increase in the admission numbers for our schools.
“We believe that this approach could provide a suitable alternative to the proposals to change secondary school catchment areas on a temporary basis and may also prove more cost effective for the local authority.
“It would also help to provide additional secondary school places for families currently living within our catchment area and continue to develop our successful school communities.”
Blatch said: “Governors at Blatchington Mill school have also requested that the local authority increase the PAN at the school by 30 places for year 7 from September 2018 as they have space for more students.
“In response to the concerns raised locally around the number of available school places, and in light of the proposed merger of the school sixth form, the school is able to offer an extra class in year 7.
“This would take the number of admissions from 300 to 330.
“This capacity is possible to accommodate with or without the proposed merger of the school sixth form with Hove Park.”
Parent Dave Boyle, who lives the area north of Elm Grove which would be moved from the Stringer/Varndean catchment to Longhill, said: “We’ve been campaigning against the catchment proposals on the grounds that they split communities and schools up, and it’s really heartening to see that recognised in the statements from the three schools.
“These offers of extra places solve the fundamental issue of capacity in the central catchments that were the very reason for the suggested changes in the first place, and with the even greater uncertainty about the new school, these proposals are now totally redundant.
“Instead of pressing on with a consultation on proposals that are now irrelevant, we urge the council to sit down with the schools and the campaign groups to agree a plan to keep communities together and catchments to remain unchanged.”
To read the council’s announcement of the catchment areas consultation, click here.
To respond to the consultation, click here.
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