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Brighton and Hove's primary school places crisis revealed
The majority of Brighton and Hove’s primary schools are drastically oversubscribed, new figures have revealed.
Thousands of parents found out this week if their child had gained a place in one of their preferred schools following months of anxiety.
A total of 2,731 places were offered at schools chosen in parents’ three preferences but 169 children were offered places at the next closest school with room available.
South Hove and Saltdean are the areas most affected by the high number of applications although the council says there are sufficient places overall to meet the growing demand for places.
But the council has admitted that not all the places are being offered in the right locations, with some parents being forced to travel miles away from their homes to get their child to school.
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A report compiled by Pinaki Ghoshal, executive director of children’s services at Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “We have worked hard over the last eight to ten years to ensure that there are sufficient primary school places, in the right locations, for the increasing number of children reaching compulsory school age each year.”
Since 2005 the council has created 345 newreception class places amid a total of 2,415 places – in the areas that show the greatest demand.
More places are expected to be created this year at West Hove Infant School’s Connaught Road site and at the Holland Road site that will be managed by West Hove Junior School.
But in recent years some schools have been forced to take on “bulge” classes to meet demand – Davigdor Infant school is about to have its second class added in three years.
According to the latest school place figures, Downs Infant School has received the most interest from parents with 145 first preferences declared for the school.
It also received 140 second preferences and 57 third preferences for its 120 available places.
The next most popular school is Davigdor Infant, which got 142 first preferences – of which 130 were successful.
But some parents were left totally disappointed after failing to land any of their top three preferences and are now facing the prospect of having to travel long distances to another school, or even refusing the place and arranging their own provision.
The number of children who were not offered a place at a preferred school rose this year to 169 – 5.8% – compared with 134 – 4.85% – the year before.
Many parents have been left fuming by the council’s offer of a place that was not in their top three picks.
Among those angry parents is Francesca Hood in Hove and with one child already going to a school nearby she had been hoping her other child would gain a place at Davigdor.
But she says she is nowbeing forced to refuse an offer of a place at Coombe Road Primary School, which was not on her preference list, because she would be unable to get both her children to their schools on time because they have been placed so far away from each other.
“I have a nine-year-old who goes to school around the corner from where we live and it’s impossible to get my fouryear- old to this one that they’ve offered.
“The council haven’t offered any explanation, it’s just the usual if you want to take the school place up or not and if you don’t then what educational needs or provisions will you be making for your child, which right nowis none because I’m relying on the local council to do that.”
She said the council’s decision had left her no choice but to appeal the place and called on the council to be more transparent when it came to allocating lower preferences.
She added: “I don’t see why I should have the responsibility. I’m going to appeal to get her into a school that is within walking distance, the whole point of this council is getting people out of their cars but they’ve given me a place that means I have to drive across Brighton.
“I also have a two-year-old so that’s going to be an issue as well.
“It’s farcical quite frankly.
“My first choice was Davigdor who have put in a new class for 30 extra places. I’m looking down the list and I have to say quite frankly there needs to be more transparency.
“I’m just wondering where all these children who haven’t got their places have ended up. There needs to be a lot more transparency regarding places, I think we’re owed that.”
Another criticism the mother-of-three levelled at the council was that they offered her a place at a school that she would have to drive past other schools to get to.
“Even if they’d given me Balfour it would be better as I will pass that school going to the school they’d offered me, that’s the irony of the situation. They’ve given me a school that is so ridiculously far away.
“It’s nonsense, it really is. I’m now in a position where I’ve got to refuse a school place, which makes me responsible for providing the education because I can’t get my child to school without it affecting my other child.”
The number of successful first preference applications in the city has risen this year from 2,323 to 2,392 although the percentage of successful first preferences has dropped from 84.07% last year to 82.5% this time.
The Argus has exclusively reported on the growing school place crisis at the city’s secondary schools.
Earlier this month councillors warned that places for pupilsmoving up from primary schools could run out by 2017 because of a lack of provision.
They also highlighted that the problem of primary school places had been an issue since 2003 and as a result was beginning to impact on later education places.
Brighton and Hove Labour leader Warren Morgan said the latest figures showed a failing of the Government’s policy on school place provision.
He said: “This clearly shows the market system introduced by the Conservative-led Government is not providing the places we need.
“We are supporting the cross-party Local Government Association’s calls for the planning and provision of school places to be returned to local authorities.”
But Conservative spokesman for Children and Young People Andrew Wealls said the opposition party had failed to offer an alternative and accused t h e other parties on the council of doing nothing about the longrunning problem.
He said: “As far as I’m concerned we had a partial solution to this in September last year when we talked about t urning Kings House into a primary school , which would have created 90 places in a part of the city that needs it most.
“The council had an opportunity to get this right last September and flunked it.
“We’re going to have this debate nowwhich the Greens are desperate not to have and all you get from Labour is a barrage of criticism. It just makes me angry that we have a constant debate every year and nothing is done about it.
“It’s ridiculous. My group are the only ones that come up with positive things on this. I’ve tried and tried to bring them on board and it’s just unbelievable and now we’re seeing the consequences of it.”
Brighton and Hove City Council has claimed that they are unable to properly plan for primary place provision beyond three to four years because the children taking up places beyond that haven’t been born yet.
The report by Mr Ghoshal claims that the normal expectation in a cycle is that application numbers grow over a 12 to 15-year period before reaching a peak and then slowly declining.
The council’s own figures – backed up by 2013 GP registers – suggest that the number of children aged four and over will peak next year and in 2016 and then may start to reduce.
Officials are currently reviewing whether they should create more permanent places or continue to offer temporary bulge classes once the number of applications start to peak.
A spokesman for the council’s leading Green party said the council’s figures compared favourably to other local authorities.
They said: “A total of 82.5% of parents still got their first preference, which is very good compared to some other local authorities; and the demand shows how popular our infants’ schools are, where performance is above the national average.”
This year more than 94% of schoolchildren in the city were offered one of their three preferred schools with about 70 more children being offered their first choice.
The number of applications received within the deadline increased by 170 to 2,933 from 2,762 last year.
Mr Ghoshal added: “I’m pleased that we have been able to offer such a high proportion of parents one of their preferred schools, particularly given that the number of applications is up by 170 this year.”
A spokesman for Brighton and Hove City Council said: “More than 94% of schoolchildren in Brighton and Hove have been offered one of their three preferred schools in this year’s primary age admissions round, with nearly 70 more children offered a place at their first preference school.
“Where the council has not been able to meet any of the three preferred schools, parents have been offered a place at the nearest school that has places available.”
TOP TEN FIRST PREFERENCE APPLICATIONS
- Downs Infant School: 145 (113 successful)
- Davigdor Infant School: 142 (130 successful)
- Balfour Primary School: 131 (113 successful)
- St Luke’s Primary School: 125 (88 successful)
- St Andrew’s CE Primary School: 121 (60 successful)
- Goldstone Primary School: 116 (86 successful)
- Patcham Infant School: 95 (80 successful)
- Hangleton Infant School: 84 (73 successful)
- Saltdean Primary School: 82 (82 successful)
- Cottesmore St Mary RC Primary: 76 (59 successful)
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