Issues with Proposals
Inequality – These proposals perpetuate the inequality that exists within the secondary system. The proposals draw most of the deprived areas of Brighton into a single catchment area. How can this be justified? How can this be called social justice? And how does this improve the social mix in our schools? The Academy if it happens won't change the social mix of Falmer school in any way.
Unfairness – The proposals will deny places at certain schools to some children whilst in turn giving those same places to other children. The number of children being directed to a school (not getting any choice) is very low, some 150 kids out of 2,261 (in 2006). As there is no spare capacity in the system, there will always have to be children sent to the unpopular schools it is just a case of who they will be. The proposals ensure kids who can walk to school will lose their spaces whilst kids who live in the south east of the city (who have to travel to whichever school they attend) will gain those lost spaces.
Parents who claim their children can't obtain any choice of school are misleading the debate. Looking at schools you currently access you can see that in all postcodes a very high percentage achieved a preference rather than being directed. The real issue is that most parents in the city want one of only 3 schools out of the 8 available, which is clearly not possible. The council thinks these proposals deliver a greater number of kids into the schools they want, also not possible, they are simply playing musical chairs with the places available.
Sibling Link Oversubscription – The proposals have drawn catchment areas around each school or schools to try and ensure the number of kids living within each Catchment area matches the school places available (based on Year 5 demographic profile). One problem is that by retaining the sibling link for kids that no longer live within the new catchment area (until 2013) there will be more kids able to apply for the places within some catchment areas. This means that until 2013 it is a possibility that some kids will not get a place at a school within their catchment (this could lead to significant numbers of kids being directed to a school outside the catchment).
End the Sibling Link in 2008 for kids living 'out of catchment'. This will enable the system to bed down quickly.
Ensure that enough places are guaranteed for each Catchment Area allowing for 'Out of Catchment' sibling applications. The Council has agreed to negotiate up to 15 extra places per school but as an example we have estimated that in 2008 both Dorothy Stringer and Varndean will need an extra class (30 kids per school) to ensure that all kids living in the catchment gain a place.
Kids being directed to schools outside their catchment area is unacceptable.
Patcham and Falmer as a dual catchment
These two schools should have their own single catchment areas. These two schools are not close geographically and this catchment would not link an undersubscribed school with an oversubscribed school, which does happen in the other two dual catchment areas.
Falmer kids will still apply for Falmer and Patcham kids will apply for Patcham, therefore reducing the amount of cross-over expected and reducing the expected impact of increasing comprehensive intake. Any Patcham kids directed to Falmer as a result of oversubscription will have to travel 3 miles to school. This proposal, in effect, just forces kids from Patcham to be the ones that get directed to Falmer.
Patcham and Falmer must be in their single catchment areas. However, this 'solution' threatens the logic of the proposed system, since it would create a school with a very high percentage of kids from deprived areas. Avoiding that is supposed to be a major aim of the reforms.
Uncertainty for kids about the school they will get
It is recognised that a minority of children always had uncertainty about the school they would be allocated as they did not live close enough to any school to be guaranteed a place. The new system will now result in most children having some level of uncertainty (as a result of the lottery) about which school they will attend (even if that uncertainty is limited to the schools within a catchment).
There is no easy solution to this within the framework of the proposals. Use of distance measurement within catchments would prevent the double catchments from doing what they are supposed to do, which is to 'mix up' intakes to make the proportions of kids from deprived areas more equal in different schools.
Allocating places using a ballot rather than distance from school as at present will force some kids to travel long distances to school unnecessarily. For example some kids living just to the West of the main Brighton-London railway line near Preston Park Station will be sent several miles across the City to Hove Park School. These kids are within easy walking distance of Stringer.
Once again, this can't be fixed easily within the proposals. Taking 'walking to school' and the environment seriously would have led to different proposals.
The Council had certain goals to achieve in implementing new admissions criteria We comment below on each.
Access to Preferred Schools/Parental Preference – The proposals allow very little parental choice. In a catchment with one popular school and one unpopular school, getting into the popular school will be just a matter of luck. Access to schools in other catchments will be virtually zero (parents will in most cases tend to apply first to schools in their catchment, to avoid being directed out of catchment, so that – except with a very unpopular school – there will not be places left for applicatants from outside the catchment. Catchments mean that in some areas (e.g just to the West of the main railway line near Preston Park) kids who are very close to particular schools effectively have no chance of getting a place.
Better balance in the spread of kids from deprived wards attending local secondary schools – the proposals do achieve a better spread, except in the likely single Falmer catchment where there will be a very high concentration of kids on free school meals (FSM).
Links between Schools and Communities – Ensuring a catchment is drawn around a school should ensure strong links with its local community. However some schools will have some of their existing local links broken such as Dorothy Stringer links with Patcham, Westdene and areas of Prestonville. Therefore in time new links will be established but it in the short term the impact is negative in some catchments.
Y6 children transferring to a secondary school with their peers – Even if there are sufficient places within a catchment for all the children, if in the dual catchment there is any oversubscription then a lottery will inevitably result in some friends being split up. It is recognized that kids will transfer with some but probably not all of their friends in some of the dual catchments.