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Big Issue: Secondary Schools Admissions Procedure

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Local Schools for Local Children?

Demo at Hove Town Hall
click the photo to see
a map of the catchment areas

Reading the various papers produced during the review process, you find a guiding principle emerges, that what should be aimed at is 'local schools for local children'; a return, indeed, to the comprehensive ideal: "The proposed system creates local schools for local children and offers parents priority within their local area" (para 7.11, Secondary Admissions Review, 6-11-06).

But how local is local? Is Longhill local for children from Whitehawk, or Varndean local for children from Queenspark? The answer is that both are more local than, say, Portslade Community College. In reality locality has been decided, not by the identification of natural local communities, but by the geographical spread of the city's schools, which is a result of long past decisions to close old, inadequate city centre schools and to site new schools on greenfield sites, and also to serve new surburban communities; decisions made long ago and during the days when the two-tier system of grammar and secondary schools was the norm.

The application of the local principle was further complicated by the fact that Dorothy Stringer and Varndean schools effectively share the same campus. The solution was to put them in one dual catchment area. Likewise Blatchington Mill and Hove Park Upper School, being very close together, were put into a dual catchment area.

Principle number two at work was the percentage of free school meals (FSM) in any proposed catchment area. FSM was used as an indicator of social disadvantage. "Both the parent stakeholder group and the working group considered the balance of FSM across schools to be of the utmost importance in offering a more comprehensive intake to all schools across the city" (para 5.15). It was for this reason, it is stated, that Whitehawk was allocated to Longhill rather than Dorothy Stringer / Varndean. When Whitehawk is included in Longhill's catchment area, the percentage of FSM in each of the two catchment areas is about equal at around 20% (para 5.13)

So far, so good. Portslade Community College and Longhill, at the western and eastern extremities of the city respectively, would each be single school catchments. Hove Park and Blatchington Mill would be a dual catchment, as would Dorothy Stringer and Varndean. But what of Patcham High and Falmer High Schools. These two schools are geographically distant, and merging them into a single catchment area to even the spread of FSM (social disadvantage) or to have a "more comprehesnsive intake" was seen as dubious social engineering, even though at present children from Coombe Road Primary School go to Patcham. The committee decided to create two separate catchment areas, and to include Coldean in the Patcham catchment, in order to bump up its FSM percentage and at the same time keep down the FSM percentage in Falmer. A proposal to include the north side of Elm Grove in the Falmer catchment to improve its social intake was defeated.

It's not difficult to see that parents whose children go to Coombe Road Primary School, and who could under the present system send their children to Patcham High, will feel aggrieved that in order that Queenspark parents can send their children to Dororthy Stringer / Varndean, they are to be directed to Falmer - the remaining sink school, since the closure of Comart.

It is no surprise that some placards on the demonstration outside Hove Town Hall read 'Moving the problem does not solve the problem'. But it is not only Coombe Road parents who feel sacrificed to the benefit of others.

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