Children receiving free school meals could be given a better chance of going to their first choice secondary school in Brighton and Hove.
The move is part of a proposal going before councillors next week as councillors look at ways to deal with the knock-on effects of falling numbers in local primary schools.
In recent years, secondary schools have been oversubscribed, with “bulge” years of primary school pupils moving through the education system.
Now, education chiefs are having to prepare for the falling number of primary school children reaching secondary schools.
A report is due to be discussed by Brighton and Hove City Council’s Children, Families and Schools Committee on the subject next Monday (6 November).
It said that the council will begin consulting with governing bodies, school trusts and head teachers to consider proposals for secondary schools.
As the planned closure of two primary schools was announced, the report said: “The council does not want to see a secondary school in the city close.
“Secondary schools are seen to serve specific communities in the city and the location of the schools would lead to an area being at a disadvantage if one school was to close.
“However, it is noted that not all catchment areas are treated equally currently and the location of the schools mean some pupils need to undertake long journeys on public transport to attend their catchment school or, in some cases, their preferred school.
“The council is proposing to make a change to the admission priority of its community secondary schools by introducing a new priority category that provides pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) the opportunity for a place at the school, up to the city average of FSM eligible pupils in the city’s secondary schools.
“This would allow FSM eligible pupils to have a chance of being offered any school of preference depending upon the random allocation tie-break.”
Children in care and those with exceptional circumstances would still receive priority for school places, with children qualifying for free school meals at the next level.
The proposals mean that if 15 per cent of the pupils at a school received free school meals and the city average was 20 per cent, more pupils receiving free school meals would be likely to be offered a place.
The report also said: “The council appreciates that an oversubscribed school which admits children with FSM from out of catchment area could mean pupils from within catchment area being refused places.
“In addition, schools with a high proportion of FSM eligible pupils could see a reduction in the number of these pupils attending because they have been offered places in other schools.
“However, the council considers the risk of catchment area pupils not obtaining a place at their catchment area school, if they include this as one of their three preferences, as being low with pupil numbers in secondary schools beginning to drop.”
The school census in May found that the average percentage of pupils receiving free school meals in Brighton and Hove schools was 25 per cent.
The council expects the figure to reach 28 pr cent by 2025 when the changes would come into effect and when the council estimates that 60 fewer pupils will require a secondary school place compared with this year.
The percentage of pupils currently receiving free school meals in each secondary school is as follows
- King’s School 15 per cent
- Blatchington Mill School 16 per cent
- Cardinal Newman Catholic School 16 per cent
- Dorothy Stringer School 18 per cent
- Varndean School 19 per cent
- Patcham High School 20 per cent
- Portslade Aldridge Community Academy 28 per cent
- Hove Park School 32 per cent
- Longhill High School 36 per cent
- Brighton Aldridge Community Academy 46 per cent
If councillors back the proposals next week, a seven-week consultation will start on Tuesday 7 November, with plans for three online about changes to secondary school admissions.
The report also recommends reducing the published admission number (PAN) for nine primary schools as the council tries to cut the number of surplus places, with more than 650 excess spaces currently forecast for reception classes in 2025.
At the same meeting, councillors are due to be asked to start the process of closing two undersubscribed primary schools, St Bartholmew’s CofE School, in Brighton, and St Peter’s Community School, in Portslade.
The council’s Children, Families and Schools Committee is due to meet at Hove Town Hall at 4pm on Monday (6 November). The meeting is scheduled to be webcast on the council’s website.