A Brighton MP has apologised for blaming “pointy elbowed” middle class parents for halting plans for a new school in East Brighton.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle made the comments last week on Twitter, when discussing the impact of hundreds of new homes planned in Whitehawk.
When initially confronted by parents who had campaigned around catchment changes, he stood firm in his opinion that they had put pressure on the heads of Dorothy Stringer and Varndean to take more children, lessening the need for a new school.
But he has now apologised for “unhelpful” comments and acknowledged there were a number of reasons the plan failed.
He said: “Alongside parents in East Brighton, Hanover and Queen’s Park I was and remain bitterly disappointed that a new school was not built in our area.
“This added school would have allowed corresponding catchments to be fairer, more locally based, given choice and would have supported our local schools in the east.
“There were a number of reasons the plan failed which were not just about numbers. In my frustration I blamed “middle class” parents, who of course like all parents fight for the best for their children, this was not helpful and I apologise.”
Plans for the new school were first announced by the Greens in spring 2015, during the local election campaign, when pupil projections suggested there would not be enough school places in the city by 2019. Labour won the election and continued progressing the plans, but locating a suitable site proved problematic.
Two possible sites, at City College – now the Brighton Met – in Pelham Street and the Brighton General Hospital in Elm Grove, were identified, but there were uncertainties over both which made it difficult for the school to achieve its first projected opening date of 2018.
At the same time, a wholesale reworking of school catchments was proposed, with three options ranging from one catchment per school to three super catchments of three or four schools each. None of these received widespread support
In June last year, the council announced it wanted to open at the Brighton General a year late, in 2019 – although the NHS said it had not made any formal agreement for this.
The catchment changes were also postponed, and plans to reduce the popular central catchment to fit the available places for one year were put forward to strong opposition in those areas which would have been moved to other schools’ catchments.
All the plans were finally pulled early this year after projections for increasing pupil numbers were revised downwards and other schools agreed to increase their intake for years where there were not enough places, either temporarily or permanently, to cover any bulges before numbers are forecast to fall as a trend for families to leave the city continues.
The row started when Mr Russell-Moyle replied to a Whitehawk resident who said if the plans to build hundreds of new homes there go ahead, the area would need a new school, by saying: “I agree with the new school I was devastated when it didn’t go through but I’m afraid liberal middle class parents got their way.”
After parents protested, he initially doubled down on his comments, calling them the “chattering classes” and saying he must have “touched a middle class nerve”.
He added: “Most were in favour in Hanover (somewhere I didn’t mention but clearly identifies as typical liberal middle class) but some areas (who are maybe less liberal but more wealthy) were not and their pointy elbow with central catchment headteachers pressure won out.”