Free school meals (FSM) banding – A detailed Perspective
What is this system?
FSM banding is a way of evening up the proportions of kids from deprived backgrounds in different schools. Suppose for sake of argument that about 20% of the kids in the City are in receipt of free school meals. What you do is reserve 20% of the places at each school for these 'FSM kids', leaving the other 80% for 'non-FSM kids'.
Then you apply the system more or less as at present (but with 'equal preference' as the Council is proposing), but you do this completely separately for the 20% of FSM kids and the 80% of non-FSM kids. Then you just add up the results for each school.
What would be the result?
For a popular school like Stringer, it would be made a bit harder to get in for non-FSM kids and a bit easier for FSM-kids. Kids who could walk to school would get in anyway. In more distant areas, FSM kids would have a much better chance of getting in than non-FSM kids.
Wouldn't this mean that many kids in the East of the City would not be able to get into a popular school?
Yes, although this wouldn't apply to the 'FSM kids' from deprived backgrounds to any great extent. But you can't possible avoid some kids being rationed out of the popular schools. What this whole review has really been about is which kids they will be. There are really two opinions about this and they can't be reconciled. The two opinions are:
- If you are going to have to direct some kids to a distant and unpopular school such as Falmer, it is more sensible that these should be kids who have to make a long journey anyway, than kids who live very close to another school
- The only fair thing to do is give every kid the same risk of being sent to an unpopular school.
So the current proposals have gone for (b), spreading the risk evenly across the City, have they?
Well, no. Some kids have been chosen to be 'more equal than others'. The risk of being directed to Falmer has been pinned on kids living in Patcham. That is unfair as the amendment passed at the recent CFS meeting recognised.
What would happen to kids from the East of the City under this alternative?
We can't be sure, because the Council hasn't mapped it out. But, for sure, some kids would have long journeys to school. To give an example, you would probably have kids travelling all the way across the City to Hove Park.
But how can this make sense if you are trying to reduce travelling distances?
It's tricky. Take an example. Suppose you have a Queen's Park kid and a Prestonville kid. Say that there are just two places left, one at Hove Park and one at Stringer. So you must choose between:
- Send the Queen's Park kid to Stringer and the Prestonville kid to Hove Park. Both kids have medium journeys, by car or by bus.
- Send the Queen's Park kid to Hove Park and the Prestonville kid to Stringer. The Queen's Park kid has a long journey and the Prestonville kid walks to school.
Which is better? One long journey and one short one, or two medium ones. The Council's catchment proposals will tend to produce option (a). FSM banding with distance measurement will tend to produce option (b).
You might say that once a kid is on a bus, it doesn't matter that much if they have to stay on the bus a bit longer: the important thing is to get as many kids walking to school as possible. If you think that, you would tend to be against the Council's proposals.