Newhaven families ‘devastated’ as children placed at secondary schools outside county

Devastated parents whose children were allocated secondary school places outside of East Sussex have said pupils deserve to go to school in their local area.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 1:09 pm
Councillor James MacCleary and councillor Carolyn Lambert at Seaford Head School

Several families in Newhaven were shocked to discover their children had been given a place at Longhill School in Brighton, which is in a different local authority and miles away from their homes.

Councillor Carolyn Lambert and councillor James MacCleary said East Sussex schools were in crisis, with many of them oversubscribed.

A petition has been launched calling on the council to review the places available at Seaford Head Academy, Seahaven Academy and Peacehaven Community School to increase capacity.

Emma Powell had wanted her son to attend Priory School in Lewes, an 11 minute train journey from their home.

Instead, he was ‘gutted’ to learn he had been placed at Longhill school, which would require him to take two buses.

“We are just devastated,” she said. “It’s just ridiculous, it’s out of our area.

“It’s the best part of an hour away, he knows nobody, he has no friends locally.”

The family have appealed the decision.

Ms Powell said other people in the area were in a similar situation.

“After the rough year all the kids have had, to have made such a mess of such an important thing, it’s just bonkers,” she said.

“There’s just lots of questions. What state are the schools in? I want to know why there isn’t enough room for all these children.”

Another Newhaven mother, who asked not to be named, said her daughter’s first choice had been to attend Seaford Head School – where her older brother goes – but she was allocated a place at Longhill in Brighton instead.

She said children should be able to go to school in their own community.

“It’s a big concern to me that obviously she’s a little girl,” she said. “I would have to put her on the bus at 7am in the morning.

“When I told her, she doesn’t even now the area. I would be sending her somewhere she has no family or friends.

“I don’t think it’s safe.”

Her daughter burst into tears when she heard the news, she added.

“It’s meant to be exciting, but it’s just caused major stress,” she said.

“These kids have missed so much school due to covid. They’re struggling with their mental health.”

The council should have known there would be more demand for schools this year because it was a large birth year group, she said, and could have created extra places.

“They’ve know this for six years,” she said. “All the primary schools have accommodated these children.”

Both parents said they had submitted their applications for school places to the council on time.

A different Newhaven resident, whose child has also been offered a place at Longhill, has started a petition, which states: “These children have already missed many months of school and contact with their friends over the past twelve months.

“The impact of the pandemic and a national lockdown has been huge. Their emotional resilience is at a low.

“Instead of being able to look forward to the next stage in their education, they are now having to contend with extreme disappointment and anxiety, as they have been offered places far from their homes and their local community.

“The council’s data would have shown that there would be additional demand for secondary school places for September 2021.”

Councillor Carolyn Lambert, who represents Seaford on the County Council, agreed that the issue had been ‘boiling up for a number of years’.

She said: “Our children and young people have already been through perhaps the most difficult year of their lives in terms of their access to education.

“For those making the key transition between primary and secondary school, this is now an added anxiety for both them and their parents, separating them from their friendship groups and placing further barriers to education in their way because of the practical travel arrangements they will have to make which will involve financial pressures as well.”

James MacCleary, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Lewes constituency, said: “As a parent with two young children, I am shocked that it has come to a situation where our county has run out of space in secondary schools.

“A top class education at a local school is something we should be able to take for granted, but years of Conservative government cuts and terrible planning mean that we are in this situation.

“What is even more concerning is that it will only get worse.

“While the government is piling on pressure to build more and more housing, they are cutting funding for new school buildings to make space for the children who will live in those homes.

“It is something that I’m sure parents will be thinking about when they cast their ballots at the County Council elections in May.”

East Sussex County Council said that, for secondary schools, 96.6 per cent of on-time applications got one of their preferences, and 95.3 per cent of all applications did.

A spokesman said that families living in East Sussex who applied on time for places in their local schools have all been offered a place within the county, unless they were successful in gaining a place at a higher preference out of county.

The spokesman added: “If an on time application is received that does not list the school serving their local community area, and the schools they applied for fill up with children who have higher priority for the available places, then that family would be offered a place at the nearest school which still had a vacancy once all applications had been processed. This may be outside the county boundary.”

Some families who did not make an on time preference for their local school have been offered schools some distance from their home, the spokesman said, as this was the nearest school with a place available once all on time preferences had been considered.

“When a family home is close to another local authority boundary children may have been offered places outside East Sussex if they applied for schools in the neighbouring area,” said the spokesman.

“Similarly families living outside East Sussex will have been offered places at schools within East Sussex if they expressed a preference for those schools.

“All parents and carers who have not been offered their preferred school have the right to appeal for a place there, and to add their child’s name to the waiting list for any places that may become available.”

Data published by the county council shows that Seaford Head School is oversubscribed, with 300 first-choice applicants for 240 school places. A total of 436 applicants named the school as one of their preferences.

Seahaven Academy, which has 180 spaces, was chosen as the first choice school by 137 applicants, and was listed as a preference by 274 applicants overall.