Two Brighton schools whose catchments are under review have hit out at the city council for giving them just one day’s notice of the changes before they had a chance to discuss them.
Brighton and Hove City Council wants to shrink the catchment for Dorothy Stringer and Varndean Schools from 2019 until after a planned new school opens so that they are no longer oversubscribed, with pupils from the areas taken out of the catchment being sent to either Hove Park, Blatchington Mill or Longhill instead. A more wide-ranging catchment shake up is slated to happen once the new school is open.
Last month, Dorothy Stringer and Varndean offered to take extra pupils rather than shrink the catchment – and this week their official response to the ongoing consultation says they were not given enough opportunity to do this before the changes were first proposed.
And they add the reason they have not offered to take more pupils in the last two years was because they have not been directed by the council to do so.
The statement, from the school’s heads and governing bodies, says: “The catchment area proposal was first shared with secondary school heads on Tuesday, 5 September in advance of a meeting on Wednesday, 6 September. The meeting was described as an opportunity to consider the proposal and the projected impact on pupil numbers and to consider how this would be communicated to the city.
“The proposal was, however, scheduled to go the Children and Young People’s Committee on Monday, 11 September. This timescale gave our schools very little opportunity to comment on the proposed changes in an informed way.
“As Headteachers, we were not able to say that we supported the proposals until we had discussed them with our governing bodies and listened to the views of our community.”
Having now consulted with the governing bodies, the schools official position is that whereas it has resisted “haphazard” expansion in the past, the disruption a series of short term changes would have on the school community would be worse than any overcrowding from a temporary increase in pupil numbers.
A citywide feasiblity study conducted in autumn 2014, after Dorothy Stringer had been forced to teach some pupils in the canteen for a while after being directed to take on an extra class in 2012, found that Dorothy Stringer and Varndean were not able to take extra pupils without extra investment in infrastructure.
It says it is happy to discuss the levels of investment, resources and infrastructure that catering for extra pupils would involve – but adds that there is a precedent of taking extra pupils with current levels of resources.
The response says: “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.
“These proposals will, however, have a significant impact on the families in the community that Dorothy Stringer and Varndean serve and the primary/junior schools with whom we work.
“We have worked hard over many years to work closely with these communities and build our successful schools. Our communities are important to us.
“Given that these proposals are temporary, applying for a two year period only, our governing bodies 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 the proposed introduction of the new Academy and its associated catchment area, there will be a further second unsettling change in two years’ time.
“With this in mind, as part of our response to the consultation, our governing bodies have taken the decision to make an offer to temporarily increase our published admission Number by one form of entry. We do this in the interests of providing greater stability to families in our current catchment area and to help avert temporary turbulence across the school communities.
“Our schools have maintained a consistent position on admission numbers; this is that we were not looking to expand (in an unplanned, haphazard fashion), especially to the detriment of other schools. This resulted in feasibility studies of our schools so that expansion could be carefully managed.
“For relatively lower costs compared with a new school, a planned increase in numbers could be achieved and would help to alleviate the current anxiety for communities. We are happy to discuss our proposal with the Local Authority including the levels of investment, additional resources and infrastructure that 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 it would enable us to continue to develop our successful school communities.
“Feedback from discussions with local residents and some politicians suggests that there is a belief that both schools could have offered to take places sooner to alleviate pressures in the catchment. This is not wholly accurate.
“Whereas both schools were directed by the local authority to take additional students three and four years ago, they have been directed not to accept additional students for the past two years.
“The Governing Bodies of Dorothy Stringer School and Varndean School, together with our Headteachers, would be happy to revisit the feasibility studies that were undertaken across the city, prior to the announcement of the new academy, to see if there is anything that can be done in the short term.
“Our key aim is to provide support and stability to the families within our catchment area and to see what alternative approaches can be developed for our communities and for the education of our future students. That said, there is precedent of both schools taking additional students with current resources.”