Consultation on proposals to change sibling priority rule

Author: Cyril Richert

A while ago (2011) we published a few articles on school campaign in Clapham Junction. This was mainly triggered by both the successful campaign to open a new secondary school in the former Bolingbroke Hospital, and the less successful campaign to amend the catchment area for the Belleville school’s annexe in Forthbridge road.

The council is now consulting parents in Wandsworth on proposed changes to school admission rules that aim to make it easier for children to attend their local neighbourhood community school.

The public consultation will ask parents if they support moves to update the current arrangements that give preference to siblings when a school is oversubscribed.

Under the existing admission arrangements priority for a school place is given to a younger sibling regardless of where they live.

The council is proposing that sibling priority should only apply in future to children who live within 800 metres of the school. Siblings residing further away would no longer have priority over children living closer.

The council believe the proposed approach would strike a fairer balance as the majority of families with siblings would not be affected by the change.

Some arguments in favour of the change

Education spokesman Cllr Kathy Tracey said:

“In quite a significant number of cases the families of these siblings no longer live anywhere near the school. Some will have moved out of the area after their eldest child secured a place, safe in the knowledge that younger brothers or sisters will be given priority over children who live much closer.

“There have been cases recently where schools have had to offer almost all their places to siblings and this means that some local children are missing out.

“We don’t think this is fair which is why we are proposing a solution that we believe strikes a better balance and makes it fairer for those parents and children who live closer to schools.” 

Data from the 2014 round of admissions show that of 712 children who were offered a place at a community school on the basis of sibling priority, 174 lived more than 800 metres away from the school

Some arguments against the change

There are many reason why one may consider that this proposal is not as fair as it claims.

The most obvious reason is the difficulty (impossibility?) that it would create to families with more than 1 child is they were to attend 2 different primary schools (are they not finishing at the same time?). Not even talking about more than 2 children…!

Also, would it be fair that one is going to one (excellent) school because the parents were renting in the area, while the other one will have to go to another school because the parents bought (or forced to moved because lease terminated) later an accommodation 850 meters from the school (which is less than the distance between Debenhams and Belleville School).

And last but not least, what about parents who were in the catchment area for their first child while living only 900m away, but are not anymore for their second child as the school became very popular and the catchment shrank quickly (this happened to Wix which had a catchment area of more than 1km a few years ago, just to see it shrink to less than 600m recently!)?

It might be only my own opinion, but I can’t restrain thinking that what looks like a good idea is actually not as fair as it claims and could create even more difficulties to local families, who have to struggle with enormous pressure on school admission and catchments shrinking in Clapham Junction.

There is huge demand for primary school places in the area, partly due to an increased birth rate (are we not called “nappy valley”?). But people who lived in the area in the early ’90s will remember Wandsworth Council closing and selling Victorian primary school buildings to private builders because they were not needed as the birth rate was low.

Don’t you think that the Council should stop playing families against each other in the battle for places and have a priority to build more places and create outstanding schools?

Also, bear in mind that academies, church schools and foundation schools are responsible for their own admission criteria, so it won’t apply to them (although the Council will claim to put pressure on them).

You can find more arguments pros and cons, and participate to a very interesting discussion on NappyValleyNet.

To find out more about the proposal and to take part in the consultation parents can visit http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/admissionsconsultation. The consultation will run until Friday, October 31.


 

The council is also tightening up the rules that allow the use of temporary addresses to obtain a school place:

  • The address used on an application will have to be the family’s normal permanent address. Parents will not be able to move into a property on a temporary basis to increase their chances of gaining a school place. Nor will they be able to use a relative’s, a childminder’s or a business address.
  • If the family own a property but make their application from a different address, the council will assume that the second address is a temporary one. Similarly if a family is renting somewhere because their main home is being renovated, then the latter will be considered their permanent address. And if the family own more than one property additional checks will be carried out to determine which one is actually their main home.
  • Temporary addresses will only be considered if the applicants are able to prove they have sold or permanently moved out of their normal address.

Any changes to the admission rules would come into effect for the 2016/7 academic year.

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