Nine state schools across Brighton and Hove look likely to have to cut the number of classes that they offer – and between them shed more than a dozen jobs.
The reduction is expected to lead to a loss of 360 spaces in eight primary schools and one secondary school.
Education chiefs have warned that, without action, between a fifth and a quarter of primary school places could go unfilled by September 2023.
By then, an estimated 2,191 children are forecast to start in reception classes, with 629 empty places.
In the current school year about one in seven primary school seats – or almost 14 per cent – are empty, with 2,517 children and 393 surplus spaces.
Conservative councillor Vanessa Brown said that she was sorry to hear none of the schools were willing to give up one of its forms.
She spoke at a “virtual” meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee, saying that a “tremendous amount of thought” had gone into the proposals.
Councillor Brown said: “I was the cabinet member for children and young people years ago when we were desperately expanding and building new primary schools so it’s quite sad to see them being reduced in size now. But we do have to work with the numbers that we have.”
Veteran Labour councillor Les Hamilton said that all three political parties – the Greens, Labour and the Tories – realised that it was a problematic issue that needed addressing.
Councillor Hamilton, a retired teacher, said: “There’s a general awareness in the city when I speak to people in schools. The head teachers say, ‘yes, we appreciate you’ve got a problem. Something must be done about it but please don’t include our school in it.’
“That is the problem. It’s human nature. The situation is we had 15 per cent of spare places. I don’t think some schools realise reducing the PAN (published admission number) is an advantage.”
He said that a school that reduced its intake to 30 could find that it was more financially viable than one with two classes of 18 pupils.
Conservative councillor Dee Simson said that reducing the number of classes at larger schools was vital as it was important not to close the smallest schools.
She added that birth rates were likely to go up again after lockdown.
The council’s head of school organisation Richard Barker said: “This is not a reflection on any of the schools we are putting forward in these proposals.
“This more is a matter of logistics than it is about the quality of education and leadership within these schools.”
Even if all the proposed reductions went through, Mr Barker said, excess capacity would still be above the preferred level of 10 per cent.
Green councillor Jamie Lloyd asked whether the council might not reduce all the listed published admission numbers and whether they would be permanent.
Mr Barker said that the results of the consultation would go before the committee in January when councillors would be expected to reach their decisions. It was not a done deal, he said.
Three of the largest primary schools in the area are part of the consultation.
Brunswick Primary School, in Somerhill Road, Hove, and Downs Infant School, in Ditchling Road, Brighton, both have intakes of 120 reception pupils a year and were oversubscribed in 2018 and 2019.
But despite four forms of entry – or a capacity to take 120 children – at Balfour Primary School, in Balfour Road, Brighton, its intake has dropped in recent years, with 99 pupils starting in reception this year.
Goldstone Primary School, in Laburnum Avenue, Hove, and Stanford Infant School, in Highcroft Villas, Brighton, are also frequently oversubscribed.
But both face a reduction from three to two forms of entry – or from a maximum of 90 children to 60.
This year Stanford offered places to 77 children, with just 58 children’s parents listing it as their first choice.
Stanford mum Susannah Kyriacou sent a question to the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee, asking why the school had been chosen for a cut to its intake.
Green councillor Hannah Clare, who chairs the committee, said that it was in an area with an excess of 120 school places so all three-form entry schools in the area were included in the draft proposals.
Other schools facing a reduced intake are Benfield Primary School, in Old Shoreham Road, Portslade, West Blatchington Primary School, in Hangleton Way, Hove, and Moulsecoomb Primary School, in The Highway, Brighton.
All are earmarked to become one-form entry schools, taking a maximum of 30 children a year.
It is the second fall in numbers for Moulsecoomb as its intake was cut from 90 to 60 a year ago.
This year just 22 families put the school as their first choice, making up the entire reception intake.
Hove Park School is the only secondary school on the list. The council proposed reducing its annual maximum intake from 300 pupils to 180.
The committee voted to start an eight-week consultation from Monday 5 October to Friday 27 November.