County council’s school admission policy is ruled to be ‘unfair’

County council's school admission policy is ruled to be 'unfair'

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Nottingham Post

More than 4,000 people signed a petition protesting about Nottinghamshire County Council’s decision to remove the priority for out-of-catchment children trying to secure a place at a school where they already have a sibling, the Nottingham Post reports.

Now the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) has said that this arrangement – introduced in 2015 – is unfair, and has given the council until the end of February to change its policy.

The OSA made the ruling in response to complaints from parents at one particular school, High Oakham Primary School in Mansfield. However, the council now says it intends to consider applying the ruling for all community and voluntary schools across the county.

A campaign group called Fairness4Siblings was set up to fight the policy, which affected primary school admissions in September 2016 and 2017.

A number of parents had complained to the OSA over the admission policy relating to High Oakham Primary School in Mansfield.

For September 2016 and September 2017 the admission arrangements for the school – in common with others in the county – did not give any priority to children living outside its catchment area if they had a sibling at the school. Instead, these children were considered alongside all other children not living in its catchment area, with priority being determined by how far each lived from the school.

The school is oversubscribed, with 234 expressions of preference by parents for the 60 places available there in September 2016. Of these, 60 got in, 134 had a higher preference for another school, but 40 who wanted to get into the school could not.

The parents had complained to the OSA that the new admission arrangements were unfair because they did not provide priority to siblings who live outside the school’s catchment area.

Schools Adjudicator Dr Bryan Slater ruled that the arrangements which the local authority determined for the school for September 2017 were unfair and in breach of paragraph 14 of the Code, and he upheld the objection concerning the fairness of the arrangements.

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(Paragraph 14 of the School Admissions Code says: ‘In drawing up their admission arrangements, admission authorities must ensure that the practices and the criteria used to decide the allocation of school places are fair, clear and objective.)

He added: “The local authority has repeatedly said that its view was that it wished to give a higher priority to the admission of local children to local schools, something which will evidently be achieved by the revised arrangements. It has told me that this came to the fore initially as a result of views expressed by elected members who were concerned about cases put to them in their constituency roles.

“Nevertheless, I have seen no evidential basis for the local authority’s view that a change to arrangements which on such an analysis appeared to be working well was necessary, or that if it was, that it needed to be achieved by the means which have been chosen.

“Having children at more than one primary school, even if these are geographically not distant from each other, must cause disruption and expense that would otherwise be unnecessary, and is also very likely to impact on the lives of all concerned including the children themselves especially for this age group. If this is brought about without adequate reason, my view is that unfairness has resulted.”

The county council said its Children and Young People’s Committee would now look at the decision before deciding on admission procedures for 2018.

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