Changes to School Sibling Policy Proposed

Council to consult formally on new entry critieria

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Parents in Wandsworth are to be formally consulted on proposed changes to admission rules.

They will be asked if they support proposals that would bring an end to the automatic preference currently given to siblings for a school place in favour of those living in a narrower catchment area around schools.

Under the proposed new system, only those siblings who live within 800m of the school they are applying to would continue to get automatic preference over other children.

But siblings living further away will still continue to receive priority if they haven’t moved home since their older brother or sister was first admitted to the school.

Parents whose children have already been admitted to a school after the changes come into effect will not be affected. If approved, the new admission rules would apply from the start of the 2016/7 academic year – but not retrospectively.

The latest proposals have been drawn up following an informal consultation this autumn which attracted more than 900 responses.

The Council say that parents who took part in the consultation supported the idea of restricting the automatic preference given to siblings who do not live near a school, but didn’t want others penalised if they happened to live beyond the 800m boundary but hadn’t changed address since their older child obtained a place at the school.

Education spokesman Cllr Kathy Tracey said: “This consultation generated a very large number of responses and we have looked at those very carefully and drawn up a series of proposals that carefully reflect the views of local parents.

“What came over loud and clear was that parents wanted the current system improved and the rules tightened up. There was overwhelming agreement that it was quite unfair for people to obtain a place at a school for an older child and then move away from the area safe in the knowledge that a younger brother or sister would always be offered a place ahead of a child living much nearer.

“There was widespread consensus that parents should not be penalised by a new 800m rule if they hadn’t moved house. The general view was that if they had legitimately obtained a place for an older child, and stayed at the same address, then any younger children in the family should keep their sibling priority.

“There was also a clearly expressed view that it would be unfair if any changes were to be introduced retrospectively."

The Council will be launching a new formal statutory consultation on this new set of proposals next month. If they are approved then we will look to introduce them in all the borough’s community schools at the start of the 2016/7 academic year.

If the changes are introduced in the schools they control, the Council will urge local church schools and other state schools responsible for their own admissions, like academies and foundation schools, to introduce similar changes.

The council has also tightened up the rules that allow the use of temporary addresses to obtain a school place. There has been growing evidence that, despite the council’s checks on where people live, some are using this tactic to secure a place ahead of families who have lived in an area for a long time.

The address used on an application must 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.

To meet rising demand for places the council has taken a number of steps to provide more classroom places for four and five-year-olds.

Over the past four years more than 28 additional reception classes have opened in primaries across the borough, while three new free schools have opened in Tooting, Balham and Roehampton.

The council has also drawn up proposals for two brand new academies - which could each accommodate up to 420 pupils. These are for the vacant Putney Hospital site and on land formerly occupied by the Atheldene Centre in Earlsfield, which will open next September and be known as the Floreat Wandsworth primary school.

November 27, 2014