Agenda item - Public Involvement

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Agenda item

Public Involvement

To consider the following matters raised by members of the public:


(a)      Petitions: to receive any petitions presented to the full council or at the meeting itself;


(b)      Written Questions: to receive any questions submitted by the due date of 12 noon on the 2 March 2021


(c)      Deputations: to receive any deputations submitted by the due date of 12 noon on the 2 March 2021


          Referred from Full Council held on 28 January 2021:


          (i) Class Divide


73(a) Petitions


73.1    There were no petitions.


73(b)  Written Questions


73.2    There were four Written Questions


73.3    1. Ms I Harris asked the following question:


Children have suffered so much during the past twelve months of the Covid- 19 pandemic and the national lockdown, can the Council advise why the mental health and wellbeing of 62 children is not being prioritised within the decision making process in relation to secondary school places this year?


73.4    The Chair gave the following response:


Your question raises really important issues and so I hope you don’t mind if I give a really full answer. I’m going to answer your question in two parts. Firstly, to explain the decision-making process around secondary schools, and secondly to talk about the wellbeing of young people- because we know how much the period of lockdown has impacted our city’s young people. 


In relation to the allocation of school places Councillors are very aware of the impact of the allocations. All our secondary schools are good, but we understand the anguish that has been caused for the minority of pupils who have missed out on their preferences.  We took this issue really seriously, and so we considered whether bulge classes could be used to address the problem.


The council and the schools in the Dorothy Stringer/Varndean catchment have a duty of care to the intake of 2021. But we also have a duty of care to all the pupils in these schools, as well as the schools across the city. Soin considering whether bulge classes are appropriate, the capacity of the schools to safely absorb considerable additional numbers had to be considered.

In previous years Dorothy Stringer/Varndean indicated that with additional resources, including building works (which are still ongoing in the case of Varndean), that they were able to provide additional places above the PAN. The analysis of the schools and the Council this year is different. We have concluded that they cannot safely absorb the numbers required on top of the additional numbers they have already taken, and so the schools do not feel able to make that offer for entry in 2021. As I will explain the reasons for this are well founded.

In 2018 Dorothy Stringer took extra pupils knowing that additional accommodation would be provided in 2019 and 2020 as part of the agreed expansion. This means they currently have three bulge year groups making their way through the school. These are reliant on four temporary classrooms which have had to be crammed into the site.


Varndean has a permanent increase to their PAN – which is why they are having additional building works taking place. These works are not yet complete and add to the logistical burden for the school whilst they are ongoing. 


The impact on schools of taking additional pupils is more than providing temporary accommodation, challenging as that is. There are additional planning and practical requirements to be taken into account. These include timetabling, available staff, and very practical logistical implications such as overcrowding in the corridors, the number of toilets and canteen facilities. For example, Dorothy Stringer already has a requirement for additional toilets based on its current numbers, without any additional bulge class.


Schools also have to consider how to manage the movement of pupils within the school site. This is a major consideration this year of all years as we continue to face the pandemic. The council also has to be mindful of the additional traffic around the neighbourhood of the school site.


In addition, the council needs to think about whether the bulge classes are needed for the city as a whole – and whether these additional resources are going to be needed going forward for the catchment.

They are not necessary to meet our statutory obligation. This is because as there are more than enough school places available for all pupils in the City. I would also like to underline here once again the fact that all the secondary schools in the city are rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted.         

In terms of the Dorothy Stringer/Varndean catchment, the forecast from 2023 is very different. This is something we need to take into account. From 2023 the projections for places needed in the catchment will be below the current PAN of 630.

Taking everything into account the Council and the schools have reached a joint decision that making the schools even bigger is not going to be the right thing for the schools or the City.

However I do appreciate that for the young people and families involved understanding why the decision has been taken offers small comfort, which is why BHISS has been asked to link with the schools concerned and explicitly check if any of the 62  children need specific support. We will also be also looking at any transportation issues with families, which brings me to the issue of -



Wellbeing more generally:

There is no doubt that young people have been particularly impacted by the period of lockdown and extended periods of schools being closed to most pupils. The pandemic has impacted on everyone, but for young people in particular the impact on their independence, their social life and ability to keep in contact with friends, or even make new friends, has been huge.


In January’s meeting of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee, Green and Labour Councillors proposed a notice of motion which included a request to Government for additional funding issued to NHS Trusts to help children and young people manage the impact of the pandemic – exactly because we know how much the period of lockdown has impacted our city’s young people. I’m afraid we haven’t received an answer to this request.


However, I know that our schools and our support services are alive to this issue, and so there is help if you need it. Any parent who is concerned about the impact of the decision on their child’s mental health should discuss this with their child’s current school and GP as necessary. And as I have indicated we are looking at how we can offer additional support for pupils who are allocated schools outside of catchment


Lastly, I would say to any young person who is suffering at this moment, whether it is to do with admissions, or just feeling overwhelmed with everything that is going on, you are not alone. Many of us feel this way. Please ask for support.


73.5    Ms Harris asked the following supplementary:


I am concerned about the psychological impact on this group of children. You are asking children, including my child who is barely eleven, to travel to not just a neighbouring catchment but to travel to a further catchment area. It does not seem that their needs and vulnerabilities have been taken into account to undertake such long journeys across the City, and nor does it fit the agenda of sustainable and active travel.?


73.6    The Chair gave the following response:


We are alive to the issues and that is why we have asked for additional support to be put in place, and we do understand how hard it is for everyone involved but unfortunately this is the situation we are in. Officers are hoping to arrange a meeting in the coming weeks and this will be linking in with families. I encourage you to take that support when offered.


73.7    2. Mr G Harris asked the following question:


In view of the fact there are 62 families in the Dorothy Stringer and Varndean catchment area whose children have been allocated a school out of the catchment area, will the Council reconsider the number of places available at both schools for the September 2021 intake?


73.8    The Chair gave the following response:


Although our admissions policy has always made clear that there is no guarantee of a place for applicants living within a catchment area, I want to reassure you that the council and the schools have already considered this.


I hope in my earlier answers I have made it clear that the council and the schools have understood the disappointment and stress for some families of allocation outside of catchment, and so we did look to see whether it would be appropriate to offer additional places.


For the reasons I have explained after careful consideration the council and the schools reached a joint conclusion that this would not be the right thing to do this year, with all pupils still being offered a place at good schools in the city.


73.9    Mr Harris asked the following supplementary question:


At the open evening at Dorothy Stringer last year, a Deputy Head Teacher said that they believed that the school would be taking 360 pupils in September 2021, and in a separate session the Head Teacher said that there would be the same number of places for catchment area pupils this year as last year. As we were led to believe that there were the same number of places available, and therefore less risk of not getting a catchment school, do you think it’s fair that so many families have not been allocated any of their preferences which were based on misinformation.


73.10  The Chair gave the following response:


I have been made aware of the comments made at the open evening. We have offered places in line with the published admission criteria. I am afraid I cannot speak for the school, but the admission booklet did set out the published admission number. When you applied for places you were asked to read the admission booklet. I will provide you with a written reply once the Council have looked into the comments of the school more fully.


73.11  3. Ms A Aziz asked the following question:


Can the Council advise when discussions took place, and when a decision was made, to reduce the intake at Dorothy Stringer School by 30 places for the September 2021 intake?


73.12  The Chair gave the following response:


There have been no discussions to reduce the intake at Dorothy Stringer by 30 places. We have admitted up to the maximum number of pupils allocated under the admissions arrangements this September. I think what the question is referring to is that an additional class had been agreed with the full support of the school in the last 2 years, but this was not intended to be a permanent change, and the PAN for this round of admissions was agreed by this committee in 2020.


OverallDorothy Stringer will be maintaining the same number of pupils at their school as in the current academic year. If the school were to take additional pupils in 2021 not only would they be admitting above the PAN, it would make the school even larger than it is at present, because those temporary bulge classes are still going through the school. This year of all years the implications of overcrowding for all our pupils is an especially serious issue.


After consulting with our secondary schools we all agreed that it would not be the right decision for the school or the city for the school to be asked to accommodate even more than they have already. So for the reasons I talked about earlier, both the council and the school have reached a joint conclusion that places should be allocated in line with our published admissions policies.


73.13  Ms Aziz asked the following supplementary question: 


You say that there was joint decision between the Council and schools, but I had an email today from the Head Teacher of Dorothy Stringer which said that as a maintained secondary state school the admission arrangements are made by the Local Authority. So he isn’t saying that this was their decision or that it was a joint decision, so can you clarify that.


73.14  The Chair gave the following response:


The admission arrangements are set by this Committee, and the decision that was made by the School Organisation Working Group was made in consultation with the head teachers, and so while it is formally our decision the school was consulted on that decision.


73.15  4. Ms L Murphy asked the following question:


What has happened to the funding that was to be made available to existing secondary schools to enable them to provide additional student places, following the decision in 2018 not to go ahead with the opening of a new secondary school?


73.16  The Chair gave the following response:


As mentioned in the Education Capital Resources and Capital Investment Programme 2021/2022, also on this meeting’s agenda, in October 2018 the Policy Resources & Growth Committee agreed to the methodology and allocation of £17.8 million of capital funding to the City’s secondary schools from Basic Need funding and Section 106 funding.


Funding has been allocated to Varndean and Dorothy Stringer which has supported them to take an increased number of pupils overall. This has included the permanent increase of places at Varndean school by a form of entry in each year group, and a temporary increase at Dorothy Stringer school in the last 2 years. Building works at Varndean are ongoing and there are plans to permanently increase the amount of toilets facilities at the Dorothy Stringer.


Those facilities are in use and still needed for the 2021 intake. If the schools were to take additional pupils, additional facilities would be needed. As I have explained earlier the council recognises that both schools currently face issues of overcrowding because of their total numbers across all year groups, as the bulge classes work their way through the school.


This funding is to ensure there are sufficient places across the city for all children who need one. Enhancements are taking place across the city in consultation with each school allocated funding, and there are sufficient places at good schools across the city.    


73.17  Ms Murphy asked the following supplementary:


In 2018, 2019 and 2020 millions of pounds were spent to allow all children to attend their catchment school. The decision in 2018 was made after the school allocations were announced. In light of this why are our children not worth spending basic needs funding for additional places when Year 7 children in the last three years were worth it, and why have we been told it is too late to take a bulge class this year when it happened at this stage in 2018. 


73.18  The Chair gave the following response:


This is not about the worth of children, it really is about the practical and physical implications as outlined earlier. There are health risks of over-crowding, there are physical implications of the amount of space these schools have, there are building works at Varndean and temporary classes at Dorothy Stringer but there is not the capacity to offer more places. This is not about the worth of children and we had to consider many issues when coming to the decisions we had to make.


73(c) Deputations


73.19 The Committee considered a deputation referred from Full Council held           on 28 January 2021 regarding Class Divide.  Ms C Goldsmith who presented the deputation at Full Council was in attendance to hear the Chair’s response.


73.20   The Chair provided the following response:


Thank you once again for coming to the meeting today.  The Green Administration has made it clear that improving the lives of disadvantaged young people in our city is a priority – one that has for too long not progressed as far as it should have.  I’m pleased to say that since the meeting of Full Council which you attended we have had two things progress. Firstly, we have recruited our Exec Director of Families Children and Learning so are now progressing with work on this and secondly we have agreed our annual budget which includes £25,000 to work on this issue. We will be bringing details to the next meeting of this committee on how this work will be progressing. This is likely to include a cross-party working group to work on the strategy, alongside members of the community and experts in the field.


I look forward to meeting you again over the coming weeks and months.


73.20 RESOLVED: That the deputation be noted.



Supporting documents:


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