West Sussex secondary school placement chaos: Independent report published as year six parents fear for future
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Dozens of Shoreham primary pupils were not offered a place at any of their three preferred schools in Adur this school year, with more than 2,000 people signing a petition against the decision.
Four months on, an independent review – commissioned by the council – has been published. It was launched to ‘gain a full understanding’ of the situation regarding secondary school places in Adur.
The report – created by David Groves, Open Box Consulting – provides details on actions that the county council ‘could have taken’ to ‘help reduce the impact on the Shoreham community’.
Among the findings were that the council ‘knew that there would be a shortage’ of year seven places ahead of time.
It stated more could have been to alleviate pressures on Shoreham Academy and Sir Robert Woodard after extra places could not be provided.
The report added: ”There was limited WSCC urgency to progress the permanent expansion of places in Shoreham or Lancing.
"There was no discussion with schools about the potential impact of their over-subscription criteria upon who would – and who would not – be likely to secure places.” Click here to read the report in full.
Jacquie Russell, cabinet member for children, young people, learning and skills said: “We fully accept the findings from the independent report, which we consider to be thorough and extensive in its analysis of the situation and takes into consideration the complexities of the roles and responsibilities of local authorities in providing sufficient school places.
“West Sussex County Council remain committed to ensuring that every child in West Sussex has the opportunity to fulfil their potential in education.”
The council said it is now ‘taking actions’ to ‘help rectify the situation for future years’. These include: engagement with schools who are their own admissions authority to influence policy change where it could benefit a significant number of children and families; providing sufficient notice and information to parents in any areas where pressures on school places could result in a number of families not receiving one of their three preferences and a review of the eligibility to Home to School Transport assistance.
‘Shocking news for us’
Parents have regularly met with councillors to discuss how the situation can be improved for children in the coming years.
A campaign group, led by Jade Sowa and Amy Boyse, has kept local parents informed of development and pushed for change.
A ‘drop-in session’ was held at Adur East Family Hub last Tuesday night (September 26).
Jade said: “Current Y6 parents asked questions about if schools will take extra children this year, how preferences will affect transport, how forcing their children to a religious school is against human rights and more.
"It got quite heated at times especially as Y6 know the council haven’t secured any extra places, and there will be more children than places again. The council’s only plan is to meet with heads in November when they have all applicants data and will ask them to take over their PAN to fit them all in.
“The shocking news for us was there has only been one conversation with Shoreham Academy since meeting on June 20 to discuss possibility of building on Middle Road site.”
West Sussex County Council described the meeting as a ‘constructive session’. A spokesperson added: “We were able to talk through their concerns together and answer a wide range of questions around secondary school places in the Shoreham area and the current position.
"This was our second meeting with parents and carers in Shoreham and part of ongoing work to engage with school communities on this issue.
"Parents and carers wanting to raise issues have also been invited to email us directly. We remain committed to ensuring that every child in West Sussex has a school place and can fulfil their potential through education.”
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, also attended the meeting.
He said: “Shoreham parents with children who have just been sent to Worthing schools which they have not chosen or with children facing a similar prospect for next year remain frustrated at the complete lack of any solutions from West Sussex Education Department and I share that frustration and annoyance, and the ‘drop-in’ meeting was a blueprint for how not to engage effectively.
"The county council has admitted that they messed up with their numbers and have apologised. They also promised to put things right going forward at the public meeting in June but since then they have offered absolutely nothing and the independent inquiry which has been feted as getting to the bottom of what went wrong so it can be sorted out for the future is now delayed by three months.
"That leaves parents and pupils completely in limbo and it really is not good enough. West Sussex needs to stand by its promises and get its act together urgently.”
‘A ticking time bomb for seven years’
Gareth Horton, from the Shoreham Beach area, fears for his son’s future, with so much uncertainty.
"We're at the end of everybody's catchment,” he said. “We're all in a state of flux. We don't really know where we're going. It could be Angmering at the rate we're going.
“This has been a ticking time bomb for seven years and now children are going to suffer.”
Shakira Firth said her soon-to-be year seven daughter ‘absolutely fell in love’ with the Sir Robert Woodard Academy but ‘there's no guarantees we are going to get it’.
She added: "I just think it's so sad, these poor children have got to travel past one or two schools in order to get to another one on a train or a bus.
"It’s just incredible how nothing has been sorted in all these years that the council have known about this. They just keep changing the goal posts and it's really scary.
"I do feel lucky we've got a little bit of a heads up because of the previous situation but I can't get my head around it at all. It's absolutely horrendous.”
Another year six parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said her family ‘always had our hearts set’ on schools in the Shoreham area but fear they will be forced to one out of the area.
"My husband and I are both shift workers so we are juggling,” she said. “My eldest is going into year 7. How do you logistically ensure your child is safe and can get to school?
"I have absolutely no control. It's worrying but trying not to over analyse it. We all feel in limbo and it's very unfortunate for children.
"There's a lot of meetings about meetings and nothing is achieved. More houses are being built and there’s more children but not enough secondary schools."
For any parents and carers currently applying for secondary school places for the next academic year, applications are open until midnight on October 31. The council’s admission’s team is ‘available to provide support and information’. Further details can be found on the West Sussex County Council website.