Placed by chance

The main principle behind Brighton's new admissions system is fairness, as it should be according to the code ("Brighton rocked", TES, March 2).

We have eight community secondaries unevenly distributed across the city.

Using distance measurement to allocate places, large areas of the city have no access to their nearest school while others have a choice of up to three. This geographical unfairness divides the city between those who can afford to live near the popular schools and those who cannot.

We have introduced catchment areas, two of which are "dual catchments" with two schools each, so that every area is covered. But we still need to allocate places - in the catchment (if there is over-subscription in it) or outside the catchment (if there are places available after all the in-catchment pupils have been placed). We decided that using a random ballot was fairer than using distance measurement.

We have tried to ensure that the number of pupils in each catchment will be roughly the same as the number of places available, to avoid within-catchment ballot as far as possible. But if we were to use it, pupils from everywhere in the catchment would have an equal chance of gaining a place.

For the two dual catchments, we will use the ballot every year to allocate children living within the catchment to the two schools. Again, this is random and fair. Since the "first preference first" system will be outlawed from next year, all the preferences will be in the ballot for each school.

But once the random rank order has been established, the computer will be able to "swap" first preferences for second so that we can maximise the number of pupils who get their first-preference school. It is fair and allows for some parental choice.

What if a school became its own admissions authority by adopting foundation status and wanted to introduce a different system? It would first have to convince us that, in line with the new code, its proposals would be as fair as the city-wide system we have introduced. If not, there would be pressure on us to refer it to the adjudicator.

David Hawker Director of Children's Services, Children and Young People's Trust, Brighton and Hove City Council

Keith Turvey on Brighton and Hove's admissions lottery, page 26

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