1 March 2016

Council set to consult on secondary school admissions system

Plans for a programme of public engagement on possible ways of changing Brighton & Hove’s secondary school admissions system are set to be agreed by councillors on Monday 7 March.

To view the committee report about this please click here and then select Addendum One.

The need for change has been triggered by two key factors. One is rising demand for school places at secondary level, and the other is the University of Brighton’s proposal to create a new secondary free school in the eastern central area of the city.

The current system uses a combination of catchment areas and a range of published admissions priorities to determine how places are allocated.

However, as of September 2018 the projected rise in the number of secondary age pupils means that in some catchment areas there will be too many pupils for the places available.

The proposals being considered by Brighton & Hove City Council’s children, young people and skills committee relate to the city’s community secondary schools and academies. These are: Blatchington Mill; Brighton Aldridge Community Academy; Dorothy Stringer; Hove Park; Longhill; Patcham High; Portslade Aldridge Community Academy; and Varndean.

It also includes the proposed University of Brighton secondary free school as the university has indicated that they intend to be part of the council’s admissions system.

As faith schools, Cardinal Newman and the King’s School both act as their own admissions authorities and set their own arrangements.

If the public engagement plan is agreed, schools, parents and other interested parties will be invited to give their views on three different catchment area proposals:

  • each school to have its own catchment area (Model A)
  • the city to have four catchment areas, three with two schools in and one with three schools in (Model B)
  • each secondary school being part of a catchment area with three schools in (Model C)

The proposals have been put together by a working party of headteachers, governors and councillors from all parties at the request of the council’s cross-party school organisation working group.

The proposals aim to ensure that as many as possible of a range of criteria are met. These criteria are that any proposed new catchment areas should:

  • ‘catch’ all children resident in them
  • provide schools with a social mix of children from all backgrounds
  • be fair, transparent and easy to understand
  • offer parents a preference 
  • be practicable options which are supported by the public transport network
  • ensure that all schools can be successful and viable.

Under the current system, once higher priorities around looked after children, exceptional medical or other needs and sibling links are taken into account, random allocation within individual catchment areas means that everyone in the catchment area has the same chance of gaining a place at a catchment area school.

The engagement exercise will seek residents’ views on whether to keep random allocation within catchment areas as the ‘tie-breaker’ for oversubscribed schools, or to use home to school distance instead.

In order to try and make the system as fair as possible the council has also proposed that the current oversubscription criteria are amended to give children eligible for free school meals a higher priority 

The proposals take into account research done by the University of Brighton into what parents and pupils think of the current system. Many of the people the university researchers spoke to said they wanted a system that offered more choice while remaining fair and easy to understand.

The children, young people’s committee is being asked to agree to a preliminary round of public engagement starting in March and running until Friday 22 April. This would pave the way for a formal consultation process in the autumn.

The deputy chair of the children, young people and skills committee and chair of the council’s cross party school organisation working group is Councillor Daniel Chapman. He said:

“We want to ensure that children from all backgrounds have the same opportunities and the same chances to achieve their full potential.

With this in mind we are committed to closing the gap in achievement between children from disadvantaged families and children who are not.

“Over the next couple of months we want to engage with people’s views on the general principles of how they think the catchment areas should work.

“The boundary lines indicated are suggestions at this stage. The feedback we get from this engagement exercise will help us draw up concrete proposals that will be subject of a formal consultation process in the autumn.

“No admissions system will please all parents, but our aim above all is to arrive at a new system that is as fair as possible to as many parents and children.

“We also want to see whether we can make more schools more accessible to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We look forward to hearing residents’ views on the different options being put forward.”

Department for Education rules state that any decisions on changing the admissions system as of September 2018 need to be made by 15 March 2017.

To view the committee report please click here and then select Addendum One.

Since its introduction in 2008 the schools in each catchment area have offered places to all students applying for their catchment area school – or schools in the city’s two dual catchment areas – who couldn’t be offered a higher preference.

The (national) Office of the School Adjudicator has looked in detail at our current catchment area based system and ruled that it is both fair and transparent. By law no admissions system can use the perceived qualities of different schools as a factor in how school places are allocated.

The council’s methods for secondary pupil numbers forecasting was recently the subject of an independent review. This found that the most recent estimates were more than 98% accurate. With the University of Brighton free school proposal now approved by the government it is anticipated that there will be sufficient places available to accommodate the rising number of secondary aged pupils up to 2026.

The publication of this committee report is not connected with the National Offer Day for secondary school admissions. The timing relates to the council’s committee cycle.