Hollingbury is one of Brighton and Hove’s best kept secrets. It has some of the best views of the South Downs from Brighton and Hove.
It has the beginnings of a new wood where you can already find rare wasp spiders – and it has one of the best schools in the area, Carden Primary, which was recently rated “good” by Ofsted.
But that wasp spider reminds me there is a sting in this tale – Brighton and Hove has a shortage of children.
By 2024, the city is predicted to have 700 school places unfilled, and the local authority – Brighton and Hove City Council – has a statutory duty to ensure schools manage their budgets prudently.
Some schools are oversubscribed. When the council asks them to reduce their intake, they appeal, and the Schools Adjudicator agrees to keep the school at its current size.
Faith schools and academies are not under the local authority’s control. The council, therefore, has a limited number of schools it can ask to reduce in size to ensure they do not have too many staff for the number of pupils.
No one wants to close schools, so the council has asked “two-form entry” schools to reduce to one-form – 60 pupils to be reduced to 30 pupils – and Carden Primary is one of them.
This is nothing new. Schools have been reduced in size before. But the problem of excess places is not going away.
Parents, however, think Carden Primary should not be reduced in size – and there are good reasons for this.
For one thing, Carden Primary practises everything the local authority believes in: quality education, diversity and inclusion.
Carden Primary has around 45 pupils per year, one and a half forms in effect, and has done for a number of years, and if anything is growing.
It manages its money well and, while its budget is tight, it is in the black. And on a tight budget, and just after a pandemic, it has recently been graded “good” by Ofsted.
Not all the schools being asked to reduce their “published admission number” (PAN) have such Ofsted records or such financial acumen.
Carden Primary is the only school which serves the distinct community of Hollingbury. It is also in a relatively deprived and isolated area. If Carden Primary was forced to reduce its intake to 30 pupils, where would the other 15 pupils go?
They couldn’t go to Patcham Junior because it is oversubscribed. These pupils would have to travel by bus or car to the nearest school – and not all parents in Hollingbury could afford that travel.
Most pupils going to Carden Primary walk, which is something the council has rightly been encouraging.
And Carden Primary has many brothers and sisters walking its corridors. The reduction in places would split families, and split a tight-knit community.
The school is well-known for its work with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) pupils and those needing an “education and healthcare plan” (EHCP).
The school has an excellent Speech and Language Centre for struggling pupils – and one strength of the centre is that it allows the pupils to join mainstream classes which helps their progress and integration.
This would be under threat if the school was reduced in size and it lost teaching staff.
The school has an outstanding reputation for sports provision, with facilities, awards and accreditations that other schools in the city can only dream of.
And the school is a real hub for the community. It puts on annual Eid festivals and fireworks displays which hundreds of residents attend.
The school serves a very diverse community, with several languages spoken and celebrated, and it is also popular with the Traveller community because it is so understanding and genuinely committed to celebrating diversity.
Within days of the announcement of the proposal to reduce Carden Primary’s intake, parents created a Facebook page, Keep Carden Thriving.
They also started a petition to keep the school two-form entry which in only two days attracted over 1,000 signatures.
And they organised a march which will take place on Wednesday (24 November) from the school to Carden Park – a visible sign of their support for the school and their worry for the future. Hundreds will attend.
A school with such committed parents deserves to be protected. Carden Primary and Hollingbury will no longer be a secret – one good thing to come out of this.
Alistair McNair is a Conservative councillor for Patcham ward, a governor at Carden Primary School and sits on Brighton and Hove City Council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee.
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