FINGERS of blame are being pointed at secondary school headteachers following the council’s unexpected U-turn on proposed catchment area changes.

On Tuesday the council signalled that plans to tinker with secondary school catchment areas, which have proved wildly unpopular since their announcement in September, will be scrapped.

But while parents reacted with delight at the news –which has been facilitated by existing schools agreeing to take on extra pupils – councillors have asked why it took a long and costly public process to drive headteachers to this conclusion.

Councillor Alex Phillips, who sat on the cross-party working group on the project for the Green Party, said: “It’s a shame that schools which are looking to expand couldn’t have communicated that to the council before we went through the consultation.”

For the Conservatives, Councillor Vanessa Brown added: “It’s caused a lot of heartache for parents.

“If the heads had agreed to have extra classes before the consultation started, we wouldn’t have needed to do it.”

They said that in meetings prior to the consultation, as far back as January 2016, heads insisted they had no extra capacity. But late last year several heads came forward to say they would accommodate extra pupils, leading to additional criticism of the consultation and its proposed catchment overhaul.

In the terms of the final agreement:

  • Patcham will take an extra ten pupils, on a permanent basis, starting September 2019.
  • Blatchington Mill will take on an extra 30 pupils, on a permanent basis, starting this September.
  • Dorothy Stringer will will take on an extra class of 30 pupils on a temporary basis.
  • And Varndean will add a class on a permanent basis.

Tuesday’s report also concluded a proposed additional secondary school, intended as a free school at the site of Brighton General, would not now be opened.

In a council statement on Tuesday, chairman of the Brighton and Hove Secondary Headteachers Group, Dorothy Stringer head Richard Bradford said: “We welcome the council’s willingness to take on board the feedback we have given them about school places, and their flexibility in responding to a rapidly changing situation.

“We would also like to acknowledge the sensitivity and partnership spirit with which the University of Brighton has worked on their free school project, and to thank them for all their work on this. However, given the circumstances the city now faces we agree there is no longer a need for a new secondary school in the city.

“We are committed to working in partnership with the council to deliver new school places, and to ensuring the long-term sustainability of all the city’s secondary schools.”

In the last two days The Argus has made repeated requests to interview the heads of the four schools which have accepted extra pupils. Ashley Harold, head of Blatchington Mill; Richard Bradford, head of Dorothy Stringer; William Deighan, head of Varndean; and John McKee, head of Patcham High School; have not responded.