Concerns at lack of available places at Downlands School in Hassocks

Concerns about a lack of available places at a Hassocks secondary school have been expressed.

Thursday, 8th April 2021, 11:11 am

According to the Liberal Democrats, twelve families who live in the catchment area have not been offered places at Downlands Community School because it is oversubscribed.

Fiona Jackson, Lib Dem county council election candidate for Hurstpierpoint and Bolney, has written to the cabinet member for education and skills asking him to take urgent action now to save parents months of uncertainty and worry about where their children will go to secondary school.

She said: “Two years ago families outside the catchment area with older children at Downlands missed out on the offer of a place for their younger children. With hundreds of new houses recently built in Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint, and hundreds more still to be built, the county council could be doing a better job of anticipating this problem.

Downlands Community School (Photo from Google Maps Street View)

“I very much hope that those families that have not received an offer of a place this year will be successful through the appeals process, but they have been placed in a worrying and stressful position and this should have been avoided.

“Families make life-changing decisions about where to live and work in order to help their children get into their preferred school. I am aware of families here who upon hearing about this year’s twelve families are now agonising over whether to move from communities that they are established in, so that they can be closer to Downlands.”

She is calling on the county council to conduct a survey of the local population so they know how many children are likely to be eligible for Downlands in the next few years and then be able to state publicly whether they intend to provide a bulge class or classes.

This year more than 97 of West Sussex children were offered one of their preference secondary schools, with almost 90 per cent given their first preference and every child found a place.

A West Sussex County Council spokesman added: “A very small number of families were not offered their preferred school and we do not underestimate how disappointing this can be.

“Students are automatically placed on the waiting list if they miss out, and parents are encouraged to discuss their options with our admissions team, including their right to appeal.

“We carry out detailed school place planning every year to ensure there are enough places for every West Sussex child.

“This analysis looks at existing pupil numbers, new housing and pupil movement between schools and is discussed with schools in each locality to ensure the data is relevant.

“We always aim to meet the highest preference possible and find children a place at a local school, but with particularly popular schools such as Downlands, this is unfortunately not always possible.”