A primary school has won a battle to keep four forms of entry after councillors voted to reduce its annual intake to three forms.
Brunswick Primary, in Hove, is the fourth local school to win an appeal to schools adjudicator Deborah Pritchard against the decision by Brighton and Hove City Council.
The council is trying to the reduce the hundreds of spare school places to reflect more closely the falling number of four-year-olds in the area.
Officials have forecast 744 spare places in reception by 2024. And by September 2025 the council expects parents to apply for places for just 1,930 children – down 20 per cent from this year.
The council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee voted last January to reduce Brunswick’s PAN (published admission number) from 120 – or four forms – to 90 from September next year.
But the school appealed, with governors saying that a smaller intake would leave families without their first choice of school.
The schools adjudicator said: “While the governing board agreed with the local authority’s forecast that there would be a substantial reduction in the number of children across the city requiring a place in YR (reception), it also argued that demand for places at the school had been sustained at a level consistent with a PAN of 120.
“The governing board, therefore, believed that if the PAN were to be 90, then around 15 to 30 families a year would not receive their first choice of school.”
The school’s governing body said that displacing the 15 to 30 children to other schools would have a knock-on effect on other children at schools in their community.
In her analysis, the schools’ adjudicator found that among the schools within two miles of Brunswick Primary, there were 106 vacant places.
This was an 8 per cent vacancy rate, compared with the council’s 5 per cent to 10 per cent target.
When the adjudicator looked at the nine schools within the same “planning area” as Brunswick, they found just 33 vacancies this year – fewer than 5 per cent.
She said that the council’s approach focused on year groups of at least 30 children for schools to be viable without providing evidence that this was necessary.
The adjudicator added: “Reducing the PAN to 90 is likely to frustrate parental preference significantly as over 90 parents have put the school as their first preference in previous years and signifi
cantly more than 90 children have been admitted and so the school has the highest preference that could be achieved for them.
“I, therefore, determine that the PAN for the school should be 120 for admissions in 2022.”
Brunswick Primary School’s chair of governors Michael Williams said: “We are pleased that the adjudicator listened to our concerns and that, following their decision, local families choosing Brunswick for their children now won’t have to worry about losing out on a place and be forced to travel further to a school they didn’t choose.”
Green councillor Hannah Clare, who chairs the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee, said that she was disappointed with the decision.
She said that it would add to the challenges that the council faced when tackling surplus school places in Brighton and Hove.
Councillor Clare said: “Our overriding priority is to try to safeguard the long-term future of all of our schools.
“The reason we are currently being forced to propose reducing entry numbers at some of our smaller schools is precisely because national rules mean we’re not allowed to reduce numbers at our larger schools where reducing entry numbers would have much less of an impact.
“We are facing an incredibly difficult situation with a falling birth rate locally and nationally. This is leading to fewer reception age children in the coming years.
“We are committed to keeping all our schools open if we possibly can. But the council has no budget for keeping schools open where pupil number forecasts suggest schools may encounter serious financial difficulties.”
Brunswick is the biggest primary school in Brighton and Hove, with 120 pupils in each year group.
It was among eight local primaries that faced a cut in their published admission number from next year, along with a secondary, Hove Park School.
Goldstone Primary, Stanford Infant and Downs Infant also successfully appealed against reducing their admission numbers.
The council is currently carrying out a consultation after publishing a proposal to reduce admission numbers at seven other local primary schools from September 2023.
Parents at Bevendean, Carden, Rudyard Kipling and Woodingdean primary schools started petitions against the proposals.
Councillor Clare said that no decisions had yet been made as she announced a special meeting of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee to reach a decision late next month