Education Secretary Alan Johnson has endorsed the controversial catchment area and lottery system introduced to control admission to Brighton and Hove's secondary schools.

Speaking exclusively to The Argus today the cabinet minister said Brighton and Hove City Council, as the local authority, had been "absolutely right" to push ahead with the system it considered best for the city.

Mr Johnson said: "There has to be a system of allocation because schools will always be oversubscribed. There is always going to be controversy when measures are brought in."

He said Brighton and Hove's new system, which uses first catchment areas and then an electronic ballot to decide which children gain places at oversubscribed schools, fitted within the Government's new admissions code.

Speaking at the launch of the city Labour group's local election campaign and manifesto, Mr Johnson said: "The new code makes it clear that the local authority have the power to use lots of different methods. Random allocation is one."

Mr Johnson said there had been a marked improvement in the academic performance of children in the city, moving from below to above national averages in recent years. He praised the performance of the teachers and other education workers in the city who had contributed to the success.

When asked whether a petition being raised by parents calling for a new school was likely to be successful Mr Johnson said: "There is a process to go through. Some of the problems here in Brighton are around whether you have the space to have new schools."

The education secretary spoke about private finance initiative (PFI) agreement used to bring private investment into public services.

Three Brighton secondary schools, Patcham High, Varndean and Dorothy Stringer, have complained it has been difficult for them to run efficiently since they entered into a PFI contact five years ago.

Mr Johnson said: "Private finance initiatives were very important in getting public investment moving quickly. Public private partnerships are now having an effect around the world."

He met with Labour city councillors, election candidates and MPs David Lepper and Celia Barlow in the recently pedestrianised New Road, Brighton. The group said they were determined to maintain the majority they hold in the city council when citywide elections are held on Thursday, May 3.

Brighton and Hove's new secondary schools admissions system was agreed in a knife-edge vote in February and will take effect in September 2008.

The council created the scheme to address inequalities in the current system which gives places at the most popular schools to children who live closest by.

This has put families who live in areas of East Brighton and near the seafront at a disadvantage because they are not close enough to gain priority at any schools.

Many parents have welcomed the changes but others have been angry that they have lost priority as a result to the schools which are closest to them or have links to their community.

The petition for a new school can be signed at

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