MORE than a third of Brighton and Hove’s secondary schools are over capacity, while 4,060 primary school places need to be found across the county.

West Sussex County Council must find 2,680 of these by this September and East Sussex County Council must find the rest by September 2017.

The need for another state secondary school in the city by 2018 has never been more urgent, but chair of governors at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA) Peter Kyle – who is also the Labour parliamentary candidate for Hove – thinks the issue had been swept under the carpet.

He said: “There needed to have been a reform of the catchment areas and there needed to be a new school ready for 2018, but the council has just kicked it into the long grass.

“You’ve got a perceived notion that some schools are better than others and people are moving into central Brighton and paying tens of thousands of pounds to live in areas which would see their children attend these schools.

“But they’re not even guaranteed a place at that school because once one is over-subscribed it becomes a lottery.

“That’s just so unsettling and it provokes so much anger within parents and the Greens are just sidelining it all.

“This then locks out the schools on the periphery.

“In BACA, for example, there used to be a bus that served the school, but it was cancelled.

“Now some students are having to go into Churchill Square and change buses, so it’s taking them an hour and 15 minutes to get into school.”

He added: “Whoever wins the next council election is going to need to show sensible but tough leadership to resolve it.

“It’s going to need a reform of the catchment areas and we need that new secondary school as well as a sensible look at transport.

“We can’t afford to accept under-performance.

“In Brighton and Hove our school leavers are competing with post-graduates from two universities for jobs, so we can’t just have OK standards here – we need secondary education to be fantastic.”

Sweeping changes

With consultations still ongoing in Brighton and Hove as well as West Sussex, sweeping changes could be made to the catchment areas across the county to level out the school populations.

Patrick Lowe, chairman of the Brighton and Hove Governors’ Association, said: “We’ve had plenty of warning to handle the pressures of the primary school numbers coming through, so there should have been a plan into the secondary school side of things.

“It comes down to having a clear plan and working in partnership with all the relevant authorities to deliver that plan.

“A year ago there was an argument that school numbers might have been going down because of people moving to the edges of the city, but that’s not been the case and we need to adapt to the ever-increasing numbers.

“Locations for new schools have to be very carefully thought out.

“When schools are built, careful consideration is given to how they can expand, but once the school has expanded to a point – that’s it.

“And it’s irreversible too, you can’t just claim that land back.”

Dylan Davies, BACA headteacher, also cited problems with the admissions system.

He said: “There’s a different system in Brighton and Hove compared with other places I’ve worked in that it’s a catchment area system.

“We’ve been working closely in partnership with the local authority and as a result we are moving towards our capacity and we are starting to fill.

“More and more children are wanting to come to our school and that’s through working in partnership with the primary schools, council and secondary schools and we’re hoping to continue that trend.

“I don’t have concrete evidence that some schools are better than others, but what we’ve had to do is work against these perceptions and that’s how we’ve got more children choosing BACA.

“I think I’d go along with the fact people are talking about it [school admissions] and that we’re in a good position to deal with the population changes.

“If I’m at full capacity here and the other schools in the city are in the same position then it’s logical that another school would have to come along.”

Alarming numbers

At primary school level, the numbers may seem alarming, but Claire Westcott, headteacher at Meridian Community Primary School, does not think it is time to push the panic button.

She had to take on a third reception class this year.

She said: “East Sussex County Council were really good and supported us throughout the whole process.

“They provided us with the new classroom space and it’s been quite seamless.

“The council keeps us really well informed and I know that some schools are oversubscribed while others aren’t.

“It seems to be pockets and not a blanket problem across East Sussex.”

Mr Lowe said primary school headteachers are rising to the challenge of having extra classes.

He added: “But classes are becoming bigger, and personally I like a smaller classroom because pupils are going to have a lot more interaction and support.

With the population growing, it’s becoming less of an option to keep adding classes to schools. So we need to give thought to more primary schools.

“We are in a place with ever-increasing population and demands are up – a lot more future families are going to be requiring education, so there needs to be a plan in place.”

Forced to learn at home

12-year-old Joe Dunk has been out of school for a whole term because his community school is full.

His mother Cari Dunk, 40, tried to get him into Shoreham Academy, but when his application was unsuccessful and the secondary option of a school five miles away proved unviable, she was forced to home school him.

With his older brother Tom, 15, attending Shoreham Academy and younger sister Holly, nine, at Eastbrook Primary School, it is proving to be a tough time for the family, and mum Cari is shocked by the figures but not by the overcrowding.

She said: “The home schooling guys told us it was pretty bad, but as more housing shoots up it’s only going to get worse.

“They know how many people they’ve got going to schools and how many spaces they need, so I just don’t understand where they get their calculations from.

“It’s really sad that my kid is feeling the brunt of it and the powers-that-be seem to be obsessed with turning every school into an academy for some reason. “My eldest son has done fantastically well there [Shoreham Academy], but he started when it wasn’t an academy.

“There needs to be enough space for me to be able to send my child to his local community school.

“There’s only one community school in the area and he’s not able to go there.

“It’s not just about the school and the education either – it’s about the social side of it as well.

“To begin with he wasn’t seeing anyone at all, he didn’t want to leave the house to go and see his friends.

“He’s quite a chilled out lad, but he just wants to be in school like everyone else.

“This is made even worse at the start of term because he sees his brother and sister heading off to school and him not being able to go upsets him quite a lot.”