CHANGES to the city’s school catchment areas came a step closer last night after a committee gave the go-ahead to a public consultation.

Parents will have six weeks to let the Brighton and Hove City Council know their thoughts on plans to reduce the number of children eligible to attend the most popular schools.

Meanwhile another string of the consultation will ask whether primary schools should reduce their admission numbers.

The changes are necessary because of a demographic “bulge” - a large population of schoolchildren, which has been putting pressure on primary school places, is about to enter secondary education.

And a planned new secondary free school - which the council insists it has enabled but over the opening of which it does not have direct control - has been put back to 2019.

Brighton and Hove City Council’s children young people and skills committee heard from Richard Barker, head of school organisation, who said that “catchment areas failing to catch” had prompted the “light-touch” review.

The plans for secondary schools shift some roads from one catchment area to another in an attempt to relieve pressure on oversubscribed Dorothy Stringer and Varndean.

The proposed changes would only affect children starting secondary school in 2019 and 2020, with a further consultation planned after that. For full details of the plans and changes see the box on page five.

The proposals were co-authored by the Labour and Conservative members of the committee but the Green members abstained on last night’s vote.

Green party spokeswoman councillor Alex Phillips said parents were “continuing to pay the price for lack of leadership” with regard to the opening of the new school. Justifying the party’s abstention, she said: “Families should have parity of preference for each catchment, and these plans do not achieve that.”

Committee chairman Cllr Dan Chapman, Labour, said: “This was a really difficult issue. It’s really difficult, and no matter what happens with catchments not everyone’s going to be happy.

“What’s important to emphasise is that we’ve got a great family of schools that’s continually improving so whatever school a child ends up at, they will not lose out.”

Last week The Argus reported that some families who lived, or were considering moving to, areas of Elm Grove due to fall out of the Stringer/Varndean catchment area were considering whether to move as a result. The council has produced a video which informs how the school admission process works. Visit


“I CAN’T see any other options. There’s no point in having more pupils in an area than there are places,” said councillor Les Hamilton to the committee last night, voting in favour of the consultation.

But he followed his perhaps-reluctant assent by stressing that, already, there are 100 spare places each year in the primary schools of his native Portslade.

And looking at birth rate data, the problem may be destined to get worse.

That encapsulates the circle this two-pronged consultation seeks to square: Brighton must avoid having more children than places at secondary schools, but not fall too far into having more places than children in primary schools.

Dorothy Stringer head Richard Bradford, wearing his chairman of the Secondary School Partnership hat, responded to news of the consultation by warning: “Headteachers in the city are aware that the increase in student numbers across the city over the next few years may be a bulge and numbers will fall again in 2022 and 2023.

“We are concerned that when numbers of students fall many schools will be undersubscribed, especially if the proposed new academy is built.

“This will affect the viability of existing schools especially in times of very difficult budgets. It will make staffing insecure and makes curriculum planning very difficult.”

The council itself is aware of the problem. Richard Barker, the local authority’s head of school organisation told the panel last night: “The surplus places have potential to become a financial pressure to manage, should a school end up with high surplus places.”

However, he added: “We are mindful as a council that we don’t want to be in a position of removing provision that in future years we need to spend money providing.”

So the second half of the public consultation, agreed last night by the children young people and skills committee, is focused on the proposed reduction of the published admission numbers of five of the city’s primary schools.

Moulsecoomb, Coombe Road, West Hove Infant, Benfield, and Hertford would all reduce their published capacity by 30 places.

Although only three of those schools support the plan, with two – Benfield and Hertford – arguing they should be allowed to continue to fill to capacity and even expand.

But if the schools enjoying momentum do continue to suck in more pupils, others may suffer as the demographic bulge continues to recede.

Data from the city’s GPs shows a bulge which peaks in this year’s Year 3 cohort – which numbers 3,277 according to 2014 statistics, the latest available.

The school year, six years above this group is smaller. The same figures show a need for just 2,861 school places for Year 9s this September.

And six years below them – the last year for which predictions exist – the children born in the latest school year only number 2,507.

A senior council source said that predicting future school requirements was not an exact science, and that Mr Bradford may not have taken into account major housebuilding projects which will swell the city’s population – and catchment areas feeding schools – in coming years.

But whether art or science, the question is sure to monopolise many a school-gate conversation in the weeks to come.

To have your say visit one of the consultations.

Please note dates may be subject to change - BHCC advises parents contact the school nearer the time.

Consultations are planned:

Evening of Wednesday, October 4, Longhill High School.

Evening of Tuesday, October 10, Dorothy Stringer School.

Evening of Wednesday, October 11, PACA.

Evening of Tuesday, October 31, Patcham High School.

Evening of Wednesday, November 1, West Hove Infant School, School Road.

Morning of Saturday, November 4, Jubilee Library.

Evening of Wednesday, November 8, BACA.

Evening of Thursday, November 9, Elm Grove Primary School.

Consultation on the primary school admission number proposals will be held: Afternoon of Tuesday, October 3, Coombe Road Primary School.

Afternoon of Thursday, October 5, West Hove Infant School.

Afternoon of Thursday, October 12, Benfield Primary School.

Afternoon of Tuesday, October 31, Hertford Infant School.


THE colour-coded maps show the ways different small sections of the city will be affected by the changes.

The “light touch” catchment areas adjustments will only affect children starting Year 7 in 2019 and are anticipated to only last for two years.

That is because the University of Brighton Academies Trust is now expected to open the new Brighton and Hove Academy at the Brighton General Hospital site in September 2019, although the school will operate without a catchment area in its first year.

The changes will take into account several mitigating factors including accessibility, distance, and whether children have older siblings at a school.

If a child has an older sibling at a school they will be equally-likely to be granted a place there as if the catchment changes had not happened.

The changes affect four main geographical areas. In the west of the city, part of the Hove Park/Blatchington Mill catchment area (dark purple) will instead feed in to Portslade Aldridge Brighton Academy.

In the north, the bright green area switches northwards, from the Stringer/Varndean catchment to Patcham High.

In the centre, the two dark green strips will change from Stringer/Varndean to Hove Park/Blatchington.

And in Elm Grove and Hanover area, the patch coloured fuchsia on the map is also removed from Stringer/Varndean and instead pupils will most likely head to Longhill school in east Brighton.