Brighton adopts schools lottery

School children in Brighton will be allocated secondary school places by lottery.

Brighton and Hove council announced today that places in oversubscribed secondary schools will be allocated by electronic ballot, rather than the distance a child lives from the school.

The council has also drawn up fixed catchment areas based on postcodes, which aim to link the number of local children with the number of available places.

Priority will still be given to children with special circumstances or siblings in popular schools, but for the first time some places will be decided by a lottery.

The chair of the Children, Families and Schools committee, councillor Pat Hawkes, said: “This system will mean that everyone in the city will have priority for at least one of their local schools – this will be a big step forward.

“Linking the catchment areas to postcode areas makes the system easy to understand. And by taking into account the number of children receiving free school meals in each area – a nationally recognised indicator of deprivation – the system has an element of social justice that is now considered best practice by the government.

“No school admissions system can make 100 per cent of parents happy, but I believe strongly that this new system will be fairer to more people than the current one.”

The Department for Education and Skills has said random allocation is one method schools may use to allocate places.

“All children, regardless of their background, must have a fair and equal chance of getting into a school of their choice,” an education department spokesman said.

“That’s why we have toughened up the new mandatory schools admission code to crack down on unfair admissions policies and prevent schools cherry-picking the brightest pupils.”

The Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) has, however, criticised the plan, claiming that a lottery denies parental choice.

Alison Johnston, principal profession officer at PAT, said: “Such a system would break the continuity between local primary and secondary schools and prevent many children from going to the same school as their siblings or friends.

“If all schools were good local schools with sufficient places, parents would not be placed in this position.”

The Liberal Democrats said a lottery can be a legitimate way of allocating places when schools are over subscribed.

However, education spokesman Sarah Teather said that getting into a good school should not be an issue of good luck.

She said: “Parents will despair that access to quality education is so unequal that a lottery is needed.

“We must look at the root cause of why some schools are popular with parents and work to ensure that every school reaches their high standards.”