Hundreds of protesters staged a mass rally to register their anger at controversial plans to overhaul student admissions to Brighton and Hove's secondary schools.

About 300 parents, children, teachers and governors gathered outside Brighton Town Hall on Saturday to protest against the city council's proposals to change the system from 2008.

The council said it had drawn up new school catchment areas in a bid to allocate places more fairly.

It refuted claims that parents had not been properly consulted.

Education officials planned to use a lottery as a last resort to choose students for oversubscribed schools.

But opponents warned the new system would deprive many parents of the freedom to decide which schools their children attended.

Protesters came from Bevendean, Moulsecoomb, Hollingdean, Hollingbury, Patcham, Preston Park, Fiveways, Withdean, Westdene and Portslade.

The campaigning group Schools 4 Communities presented a 3,200-name petition to Anne Meadows, city ward councillor for Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.

Cate Miller, 35, of Coombe Road, Brighton, joint chairman of Schools 4 Communities, said she had an eight-year-old son who would be affected by the proposals.

She said: "There are problems across the city. Each area has its own issues. We have come together because we want it looked at properly.

"There has not been proper consultation. We want choice for our children. The city seems to be going against Government policy, which is to increase choice."

Fellow chairman Mark Bannister, 36, of Withdean Crescent, Brighton, who has a daughter, three, and son, ten, said: "The protest shows there is a massive groundswell of discontent about the proposals on the table."

The existing admissions system allows parents to specify their first three choices of schools and, at oversubscribed schools, gives priority to families the shortest walking distance away.

But children in several areas of the city, including East Brighton, the seafront and central Hove, live so far from their nearest schools they have no chance of being given priority at any of them.

This means many youngsters have to travel across the city to attend schools miles from their homes.

The council said it devised the new catchment areas to ensure every child would be able to get into one of its nearest schools.

But where a popular school was oversubscribed, a "luck of the draw" electronic lottery system would be used to decide which pupils got priority.

Councillor Kevin Allen, who represents Preston Park said: "Everybody understands there is no perfect solution, but any change should be for the better, not the worse.

"The lottery is a terrible way of deciding which school children go to and will massively increase uncertainty both for parents and for children.

"Consultation with parents has been entirely inadequate. Many parents are only now becoming aware of what is going on. The whole process has been the opposite of transparent."

Demonstrators chanted: "We want choice" and "Think again" , and carried banners with slogans such as "no voice - no choice" and "it's our right to choose".

A city council spokesman said it had carried out comprehensive consultations, including a series of open meetings at awide range of venues, before unveiling the proposals.

The working group which shaped the plans involved councillors of all political parties and was helped by 23 parents, each representing a different area of the city.

Coun Juliet McCaffery, deputy chairwoman of the council schools committee, said: "There were 12 meetings at 12 schools discussing the admissions situation and what could be done. These specific proposals have come from them. The parents have been informed all along the way. We are now consulting school governors. It is very difficult to find a solution that suits everyone.

"The lottery is a very difficult issue. We have to have some criteria to decide what happens at oversubscribed schools. I'd like to think of an alternative that's fairer but I can't. I doubt anyone else can either."

Campaigners from a group which supported the proposed changes said the protesters were putting their own needs ahead of what was best for the city as a whole.

Chris Bourne said the Schools 4 Communities group's actions meant many other parents would still be left with no choice at all.

He said: "Some of the parents in that campaign believe stopping these changes will mean their children will get places at Dorothy Stringer and Varndean but they are wrong.

"They would not get in under the current system anyway."

The proposed changes will be discussed by councillors at the town hall on Monday, January 29, at 5pm.

A map of the council's proposed catchment areas can be viewed at

To see the map, click here