Parents win fight over school catchment area changes

From The Argus

School Catchment Map

Controversial plans to change secondary school catchment areas and cut primary school class sizes have been abandoned.

The proposals rallied opposition from thousands of parents who said good primaries would be forced to close, and secondary pupils would be separated from friends and forced to travel hours a day, if the changes went ahead.

But in a dramatic climbdown following a public consultation – and months of petitions and threats of legal challenges from parents – Brighton and Hove city council announced a report is recommending it scrap all of the controversial aspects of the plans.

Benfield and Hertford primary schools will remain two-form entry, and no secondary catchment areas will change. Four of the city’s secondary schools will take extra pupils over the next few years, to accommodate the demographic “bulge” which was the reason for the proposed changes.

The U-turn was greeted with joy by campaigners. Parent Dave Boyle, who organised opposition to the plan, said: “I’m sorry we’ve had to spend so much time becoming education policy experts over the last six months, but I’m thrilled the council has now made the right decision.”

The decision also cancels the planned creation of an additional secondary school on the site of Brighton General hospital, which had been pencilled in for September 2019.

The chair of the children, young people and skills committee, Councillor Dan Chapman, said: “In the circumstance we are now facing, I believe that the benefits of leaving the catchment areas as they are outweigh the possible benefits of the changes that were proposed.”

He added: “Taking these changes in circumstances into consideration our administration believes that the new free school, as proposed in 2015, is no longer in the best interests of the city as a whole.

“We have therefore advised the University of Brighton Academies Trust that we have withdrawn the in-principle support for the new school.”

Green education spokeswoman Councillor Alex Phillips and Conservative education spokeswoman Councillor Vanessa Brown both told The Argus it was a shame that secondary school heads – who latterly said they could accommodate more pupils – had not said the same to the council before the lengthy and costly consultation started.

A statement issued by Richard Bradford, Headteacher of Dorothy Stringer School and Chair of the Secondary School Partnership, read: “We welcome the council’s willingness to take on board the feedback we have given them about school places, and their flexibility in responding to a rapidly changing situation.

“We would also like to acknowledge the sensitivity and partnership spirit with which the University of Brighton has worked on their free school project, and to thank them for all their work on this.

“However, given the circumstances the city now faces we agree with the view that there is no longer a need for a new secondary school in the city.

“We are committed to working in partnership with the council to deliver new school places, and to ensuring the long-term sustainability of all the city’s secondary schools.”