From The Argus –
Parents dismayed at the prospect of shrinking catchment areas for popular schools are considering moving house for the sake of their children’s education.
Changes being discussed next week may mean pupils starting secondary education in 2019 are no longer eligible for the school their parents had expected them to start at.
In some cases parents The Argus spoke to said they had moved homes to be in a certain school’s catchment area.
On Monday, Brighton and Hove City Council’s Children, Young People and Skills committee will debate catchment area changes proposed by a cross-party working committee. Councillors are expected to approve the plans to go to a public consultation this autumn.
The changes are necessary in part because the opening of an anticipated secondary free school has been delayed.
A bulge in the school-age population is making popular schools in the centre of the city, especially Dorothy Stringer and Varndean, increasingly oversubscribed while outlying schools have more capacity.
The changes will affect children starting Year 7 in 2019 and take into account factors including accessibility and whether children have older siblings at a school. They are anticipated to only last for two years.
The University of Brighton Academies Trust is expected to open the Brighton and Hove Academy at the Brighton General Hospital site in September 2019, although the school will operate without a catchment area in its first year.
The changes affect four main geographical areas. In the west of the city, part of the Hove Park / Blatchington Mill catchment area (map above, purple) will instead feed into the Portslade Aldridge Brighton Academy.
In the north, the bright green area switches from the Stringer/Varndean catchment to Patcham High.
In the centre, the two dark green strips will change from Stringer/Varndean to Hove Park/Blatchington.
And in Elm Grove, the area coloured fuchsia on the map is also removed from Stringer/Varndean and instead pupils will be most likely to head to Longhill School.
A statement issued jointly by committee chairman Councillor Dan Chapman, Labour, and committee opposition spokeswoman Councillor Vanessa Brown, Conservative, reads: “We want to be able to offer families greater clarity about which secondary school their child may go to. Our catchment area based system has largely served the city well since it was introduced in 2008. However, increases in secondary pupil numbers mean some catchment areas no longer have enough places for each child in their area.
“Until the new school opens we need to make light-touch temporary adjustments to our catchment areas to make things work better. Whatever proposals are put forward by the forthcoming committee will be subject to extensive public consultation before a final decision is made in the New Year.”
Ruth Sharma is a full time mum whose house in Hartington Road, Brighton, is in the very centre of the patch fated to switch from Stringer/Varndean to Longhill. She moved to the property with her husband six years ago in part because of its location in the sought-after catchment area.
Her son Zac is currently in year five at Elm Grove school so would be one of only two years of schoolchildren directly affected by the proposal should it be approved at council and by the subsequent public consultation.
Mrs Sharma said: “That’s really bad news, it’s very disappointing. Dorothy Stringer is great, but my opinion of Longhill is that it’s not great and the new school, well it’ll be new. And it’ll be quite a long way away.
“We thought about moving out of the area but we decided to stay because we’re in the right catchment area for the schools.
“But this could move the needle, we could even think about moving out of the area because of this.”
By law admissions arrangements have to be agreed 18 months in advance, meaning decisions on 2019 admissions need to be made by early 2018.
IT DOMINATES SCHOOL GATE CONVERSATIONS
THERE are a lot of slightly negative buzzwords used to describe the middle-class parents found at the school gates of Elm Grove Primary and behind the well-maintained doors of the hills of Hanover.
“Sharp-elbowed” is one, “yummy mummies” another.
Really all these pointed comments mean is that, like all of us in our own way, this a community which puts its children first.
And in an area where a modest three-bedroom terrace sells for more than half a million pounds, these parents have invested heavily in maximising their children’s chances of going to the best schools.
But now, changes to catchment areas which will affect children starting secondary school in 2019 and 2020 are in danger of leaving the morning’s muesli spilled all over the kitchen floor.
The plans have been submitted by a cross-party working group of the Brighton and Hove City Council’s young people education and skills committee and seek to solve the problem of oversubscription of good schools in the centre of the city while a new secondary school which will alleviate overcrowding is created.
The plans, if approved on Monday and passed by public consultation, would move this neighbourhood from the Dorothy Stringer and Varndean catchment to the Longhill catchment.
Dorothy Stringer and Varndean were both rated “good” by Ofsted in their latest inspection.
Indeed, Dorothy Stringer was even listed by society magazine Tatler as one of the top 20 most desirable state schools in the country. Earlier this year the magazine wrote: “It’s not only the ‘coolest’ but also the ‘best in town’.”
To the east, Longhill School was told it “required improvement” by inspectors.
The difference is not lost on parents of school-age children.
Anna Challacombe, 40, is a vegan yoga mat designer who is currently renting a property for herself and her three young children in Eastern Road, having searched without success to find a suitable location in Hanover.
She said: “I’m thinking of moving to Hanover but this will definitely affect my decision.”
She has been eyeing the relocation with the express intention of moving her ten-year-old son and six-year-old twins from the Longhill to the Stringer/Varndean catchment areas.
She said: “I had better make sure I move to the right area. If I moved now I’d be really conscious of where I’d be looking to rent or buy.
“Rental values will be affected and it’s hard enough already.
“The area you want is going to be smaller. It’s going to be harder and more expensive for me to find somewhere. All the people who would be looking across the road will be looking over here.”
Ruth Sharma, a Hartington Road resident whose son may be directly affected by the changes, said: “It’s not great, is it. That’s really bad news, it’s very disappointing.”
She moved to the street six years ago, choosing the location because its place in the catchment area of sought-after schools.
She explained: “We thought about moving out of the area but we decided to stay because we’re in the right catchment area for the schools. But this could move the needle, we could even think about moving out of the area because of this. This could tip the balance.”
Tamlyn Smithers, a supply teacher at Brighton College, has a seven-year-old son at Elm Grove.
They live in the area designated for the Stringer/Longhill change but she is not yet concerned. She said: “Schools have reputations but by the time he goes there’ll be a different head teacher, hopefully there’ll be a different government. There are people wondering whether we should we move, should we be trying to move? But I’m not considering that yet. I’m going to try and wait and see the lay of the land for my boy.”
She said conversations at the school gate had been dominated by talk of the proposals. She said: “This is affecting friends of mine with older kids. People have been really concerned. With what we pay to live here, it’s a nice area with nice schools, but that doesn’t mean we have no social conscience about everyone else’s quality of life.”