Choice of school and the need in the Wix area

Author: Cyril Richert

This is our last article of our series on primary schools in the Clapham Junction area.

The borough has the obligation to provide more primary school places borough wide so it is adding extra classes to various schools. Therefore it has chosen the schools where there is the most need as that seems logical.

If opening a new school on the Vines site means that applications would be low at other schools like High View and Shaftesbury Park (all or nearly all applicants are successful), it does not make sense.

Therefore it has to be a case of some need in the area.

The Council is highlighting the birth rate in the Northcote area (apparently one of the greatest in the country) with increases pressure on Belleville; but they see no such unmet demand in the other area (because by “the other area” they mean the huge Planning Area between here and the river encompassing four council wards: St Mary’s Park, Latchmere, Shaftesbury and Queenstown).

However, as in many other cases, we could consider that offer creates demand and that the location of excellent schools attracts many new couple with projects to extend their family and therefore explain the birth rate increase in the area. As shown in the whole country: successful schools are always over-subscribed.

In addition, as the Council is keen to point out that Shaftesbury Park has got available space to welcome children from Forthbridge area, so has High View for those of Northcote ward (closer than the Vines’ site actually). However this option has not been suggested by the Council. Why?

Moreover, through a Freedom Of Information request there is evidence to show that there were actually more applications per place for the Wix school here on the northside (even to its normal intake English language stream) for 2010 reception places than there were for the reception places at Belleville.

*120 places published in Sep09 guide “Choose a Wandsworth Primary School” so that’s the number of places seen by parents when making their applications (deadline 22Jan10)

In 2010 applications for reception places Wix English stream had a higher ratio of total applications per place than Belleville and also a higher ratio of first choice applications per place than Belleville.

Even if we use just 90 places for Belleville (as 2008 admission) then although the ratio of total applications per place is then greater at Belleville, Wix English stream still has a higher ratio of 1st choice applicants per place than Belleville

On of the reason why we can see such a demand (it was not even the case a year ago) is because it reflects the fact that Wix school has received international acclaim and transformed itself over recent years from a struggling school to one with a substantial waiting list and a good Ofsted report. We are not there yet as the English school is still under-performing, but the very recent bilingual class has proved itself in a remarkably short time (more than 5 times over-subscribed) and Wandsworth has received international recognition for its foresight and innovation in creating it.

While the model set by Wandsworth has now been adopted in several other Boroughs, it will send a wrong message that Wandsworth is not considering the new system seriously.

Moreover – as shown with the over-demand for the bilingual school – the level of application is directly linked to the quality of the school and excellent schools attract families and very high demand, while some parents without this choice will prefer to rely on private schools.

All those arguments show that this is less an issue with over-subscription in Northcote area, than a problem of lack of good schools in Shaftesbury ward.

Choice of school – a government enforcement

The fact is that parents in Shaftesbury are offered two average/good school (sub-standard to Wandsworth average) with Wix (improving indeed, and attracting also Lambeth children – about 25%) whilst parents living in between the common have access to two excellent schools (amongst the best in the borough) with twice the same capacity and still over subscribed.

It gives two possibilities to explain the situation: either there is no children in Shaftesbury and only people in Northcote has a kid population, or that many parents of Shaftesbury are forced to go private in order to reach the standard of education their wish for their children.

Parents will tend to choose the schools offering better academic (and other) opportunities for their children.

The School Admissions Code comes into force on 28 February. 2007, and sets the duties to increase opportunities for parental choice, respond to parental representations, and improve community cohesion. Thus, you can read p17 of the code:

1.8 Following commencement of the relevant provisions of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, local authorities will be required to promote fair access to educational opportunity, promote high standards and the fulfilment by every child of his educational potential, secure choice and diversity and respond to parental representations.

1.9 Section 13A of the Education Act 1996 (as inserted by Section 1 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006) requires local authorities to exercise their functions with a view to promoting the fulfilment by every child of his educational potential, and, in the case of local education authorities in England, with a view to ensuring fair access to educational opportunity, as well as with a view to promoting high standards.

1.10 Local authorities have a new statutory duty under section 14(3A) of the Education Act 1996 (as inserted by Section 2 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006) to secure diversity and increase opportunities for parental choice when planning the provision of school places.

1.11 In addition, local authorities must consider parental representations about the provision of schools in their areas and respond setting out any action which the authority proposes to take, or where the authority believes no action is necessary, their reasons behind that opinion.

Consultation

The Council feel that their already-suggested recommendation for a future consultation on admissions across several schools is an adequate response to current objections. But they say it is “too soon” to agree now on the wording of this. Apparently they miss the point that the huge objection was already to the admission proposal – that people had already spoken and they think a school, any school that local children cannot access is very unfair.

This should involve a discussion forum and open meetings with residents living on and around Forthbridge Road, (the consultation conducted with Belleville parents back in 2009 included this).

The Admissions Code itself sets out the conditions for any consultations on admissions.

All admission authorities are required to complete their consultation by 1 March, and determine their arrangements by the 15 April, in each calendar year for the following school year

[page 22 of the Admissions code]

Consultations must happen for at least 8 weeks between 1Nov10 and 1Mar11 in order to effect admissions policy for 2012! The ONLY education committee before 1Nov is on 21Sep10, therefore there is a urgent need to define the consultation wording and process.

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