A Personal View
from a parent in the proposed Stringer/Varndean catchment
I think if we had a magic wand we would say that the current system should not be altered as it delivers a very high level of satisfaction. The council has been determined to resolve the admissions issue for a section of Brighton (namely Queens Park, Hanover etc) as they have been an effective campaign group. In the latest review, Social Justice has moved higher up the agenda. The method favoured for delivering a more social mix into schools is to ensure that each school has roughly the same % of kids on Free School Meals ('FSM'). To achieve this same % of FSM in each school, they have decided that drawing catchment areas around the city is the most effective way of bringing FSM kids together with non FSM kids. The dissatisfied brigade have signed up to the social justice agenda because this catchment method allowed them the opportunity to have their areas drawn into the Stringer/Varndean catchment and that is exactly what has happened. So the Council can say that these proposals deliver social justice and they give all areas a chance to access a school of choice. They also allow certain areas to get exactly what they wanted.
However, we have to look more closely at what actually happens with the new system. Some areas have access to schools they also wanted but couldn't get. That has to mean that some kids who would have gone to these schools will now have to go elsewhere (i.e have their choice taken away). In the case of Patcham, many of these kids went to Stringer and Varndean and now they will have to go to Patcham. It is obviously harder to argue the Patcham case because they do have a local school to attend. But take the case of the Stanford and Westdene parents. Many of these kids have traditionally walked to Stinger (of the BN1 5 postcode 51% of all current Year 7 kids obtained places at Stringer compared to less than 15% for Blatchington Mill and Hove Park combined (the 2 schools they will have to choose from)). So in addition to having traditional links broken with Stringer (where they could have walked), kids in BN1 5 will have to travel between 2 and 3.5 miles to either BM or HP.
So is there any other way we can achieve the FSM mix in schools which the council says is what is behind its proposals, but whilst retaining distance measurement. Yes through FSM banding. This basically fixes a quota of FSM places at each school, and then gives preference to FSM kids over non-FSM kids until the quota has been filled up. Once the quota was filled at each school, and sibling links and medical applications resolved, distance measurement would be applied. Why did the Council not model this option? This was suggested to Gil Sweetenham (Asst Director of Schools) months ago but it was quietly ignored. Why? _ because whilst delivering social justice it would not have pacified the 'dissatisfied'. In fact it would have made their plight worse because through the distance measurement rules they would stand even less chance of getting a place at Stringer or Varndean (as some of the places available would now have gone to kids from around the city on FSM).
So the result of the current proposals is to give certain areas access to schools they wanted whilst in turn denying those same places to kids who could currently get them. They are not removing the dissatisfaction, they are merely moving it to other parts of the city. That is all they could ever do.
- Scrap the current proposals or
If the proposals aren't going away what can we do :
- Ensure these Catchment Areas actually 'Catch' the kids drawn into them. In the Stringer/Varndean ('DS/V') area it is highly likely there will be more applications than spaces from within the catchment itself. Even after the Council negotiates 15 extra places per school (possibly) this will not be enough.
Solution – Either the council guarantees a place at a school in each catchment (which means an extra class of 30 at DS and V) or they should end the out of catchment sibling link in 2008 not 2013.
- Lotteries – argue that lotteries should not be used as they give uncertainty to nearly all kids and split friends up. Distance measurement would stop that. What that would deliver however, or so it is argued is a skewed FSM % into Varndean whilst Stringer would have all the non FSM kids from around Preston Park. The other issue here is that if there is over subscription actually within a catchment then it is those farthest away that would be directed elsewhere (a good thing we would say as they have to travel anyway – why give a place at Stringer to someone in Queens Park when a kid from Loder Rd can walk there?). Of course if what the council is saying is accurate and there will not be major oversubscription – then that problem doesn't arise!
Open the former secondary school Comart/Stanley Deason which was closed 2 or 3 years ago. Draw catchment areas, including one for East Brighton to include Whitehawk and Queens Park in order to ensure a good social mix. This would sort the admissions problem in East Brighton, give them a local school that they could walk to and free up spaces at the other city schools for the expected population increase on its way. Why won't it happen – not enough political will and the council knows that Queens Park parents haven't supported Comart in the past (the reason it shut originally).