Hundreds sign petition protesting at scores of pupils being sent miles away to secondary school

Posted On 03 Mar 2021 at 6:23 pm

More than 900 people have signed a petition calling on the council to find extra places for more than 60 children who have been allocated places at schools miles away this year.

Although demand for places across the city is gradually dropping, there were more applications for places at Varndean and Dorothy Stringer this year.

The council knew in early December that a significant number of children living in the schools’ joint catchment were going to miss out on a place. A small cross-party group of councillors decided to go ahead and send them out of catchment.

In 2018, both schools agreed to take on an extra form to cope with demand until pupil numbers dropped, as was then forecast.

But this year, more pupils than ever applied – and Dorothy Stringer dropped its temporary bulge class, as originally planned.

The schools told the working group – made up of Green councillors Hannah Clare and Sarah Nield, Labour councillors John Allcock and Les Hamilton, and Conservative councillor Vanessa Brown – that they did not feel they could take extra classes this year.

Amy Hyland, who started the petition, said: “These children have already missed many months of school and contact with their friends over the past twelve months.

“The impact of the pandemic and a national lockdown has been huge. Their emotional resilience is at a low.

“Instead of being able to look forward to the next stage in their education, they are now having to contend with extreme disappointment and anxiety, as they have been offered places far from their homes and their local community.”

The petition will be heard at Monday’s meeting of the Children, Young People and Skills committee. Four more parents have submitted questions around the same subject.

One, from Ms I Harris, asks why the children’s mental health has not been considered in allocating places, Mr G Harris asks if the council will reconsider the decision not to offer bulge classes.

Ms L Aziz asks when that decision was taken, and Ms L Murphy asks what happened to the funding allocated in 2018 for extra places.

That funding was allocated after the council decided not to go ahead with building a new school in East Brighton, and paid for permanent increase in numbers at a handful of the city’s secondaries, including boosting Varndean’s intake from 270 to 300.

It also paid for a three-year bulge class at Dorothy Stringer, which increased its intake from 330 to 360, but only in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Councillor Hannah Clare, chair of the Children, Young People and Skills committee, said: “We understand how upsetting it can be for families when we are unable to offer them one of their preferred schools.

“Unfortunately the large number of pupils this year in the catchment areas for Varndean and Dorothy Stringer made this unavoidable.

“We work in close partnership with our schools on all school admissions matters.

“However, both schools are full. Varndean will also have building work ongoing in September and therefore can’t accept extra pupils.

“Given the number of pupils involved, and the fact that Dorothy Stringer is already operating at full capacity, the working group and Dorothy Stringer agreed they would not be in a position to offer the children a place.

“After consulting with our secondary schools we all agreed that the appropriate way to manage this situation was to allocate all the city’s secondary school places in line with our published admissions policies.

“As we have seen from reductions in primary school places, the numbers of children in our secondary schools are forecast to drop in the coming years.

“We will be working on a strategy going forward to address this challenge – and seeking your thoughts on how we fairly allocate places in our city’s schools.”

A council spokesman said: “At their meeting on 8 December the working group was updated on secondary school applications and the projected breakdown of numbers by catchment area.

“This pointed to us not being able to offer a considerable number of pupils catchment area places in the Dorothy Stringer / Varndean catchment area.

“The group’s view was that the appropriate way to manage the situation was by offering families places at other schools in line with our agreed school admissions policy.

“Following the meeting, and after the final figures on school places being offered were confirmed, we discussed the situation again with the two schools. Both confirmed that they did not feel able to manage additional pupils.

“Members then confirmed unanimously via email their decision that the appropriate way to manage the situation was by offering families places at other schools in line with our agreed school admissions policy.”

No more details of the upcoming strategy have been given, and no discussion about admissions or catchments is due to take place at Monday’s committee meeting.

When the 2018 consultation was underway, the council told parents that government guidelines said any changes to admissions arrangements need to decided by mid-March of the previous year, following a consultation – which would mean it is now too late to change the admissions criteria for 2022.

In 2018, council projections estimated there would be the same number of children in the Stringer/Varndean catchment for both 2021 and 2022.

The 2018 consultation proposed a wholesale redrawing of the city’s catchment areas, with three options including one which would rebalance the number of deprived children attending each school.

Other proposals included tweaking the catchments to increase the number of pupils going to undersubscribed schools, such as Longhill and BACA, and shrink the catchments for oversubscribed ones, such as Varndean and Dorothy Stringer.

However, following revised pupil projections which showed falling pupil numbers, the proposals for both a new school and catchment changes were dropped.

  1. Laura Kemp Reply

    What an awful situation for the families involved. I can’t believe the council have let this happen when they had plenty of chances to rectify the situation! Let’s hope they sort this out quickly and minimise the distress to these children.

  2. James Reply

    There was a proposal to change the catchment area for varndean and stringer, arguably the two best secondaries in brighton. However that was ditched by the council and it has left a situation where those two schools take children from the same (generally very nice) areas, resulting in the lowest levels of free school meals and lowest levels of SEN in brighton and hove. The real issue here is not the distance but the fact those other two schools are are educationally very poor. Longhill is actually getting worse…. The two best schools should have a broadened catchment area and certainly not identical ones.

    • Abi Simmonds Reply

      You’re absolutely correct. It’s madness that both of the best schools take children from the same largely middle class areas. This is why we now have a situation in Brighton with schools like BACA and Longhill (and to an extent Hove Park) being undersubscribed because parents are choosing not to send their children there. Many of the families now denied places at their chosen schools will now opt out of state and go private, which further worsens the problem for underperforming schools.

  3. Elizabeth Reply

    This is all down to the fact that they didn’t build the proposed new school in East Brighton – provisions should have been made to accommodate all of these children within their catchment area. Devastating for these families and children,they have been let down.

    • Bob Reply

      Overwhelmingly, nice schools have nice kids in them. The unspoken understanding is that living in those areas gives your child a shot at a school with high-income household classmates, who are less likely to be disruptive.
      Can you think of a single good argument for a parent to send their child to a crap school? Where are they going to find the sacrificial lambs to buoy up PACA, BACA, Hove Park? Blatch do a ruthless job of streaming form groups by student background (I invite you to look at the stats no matter how they claim to work it out).

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