Council set for U-turn on sibling admission policy

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Nottinghamshire County Council is set to do a U-turn on schools admission criteria concerning siblings.

Following a new ruling the authority looks set to change controversial school admission rules which are forcing their children to attend different schools.

The rules introduced in September last year mean there is no longer a priority given to pupils with a sibling at the school, if they live out of the catchment area.

This has meant families were split and long school runs for parents.

Some were offered school places which were miles apart in different directions.

A group of parents opposed the policy and more than 500 signed a petition saying the rules created a ‘nightmare situation’ for their families.

The schools adjudicator has ruled the policy ‘unfair’ in some cases and the council is set to revert the policy for 2018.

Nottinghamshire County Council’s admission arrangements for 2018/19 will reinstate the previous priority given to pupils living out of catchment who have a sibling connection following the ruling of the Schools Adjudicator on 31st January 2017.

The Adjudicator ruled that the change in criteria was unfair on the grounds that more people were disadvantaged by the change than if no change had taken place.

Whilst the adjudication was in relation to one community school, the Council has decided that the changes will affect all community and voluntary schools from 2018-2019.

The decision also has an impact on those parents applying for places in 2017/18. Whilst the allocation of places on offer day, 18 April 2017 will be in accordance with the existing published 2017/18 admissions arrangements, the adjudication will affect the waiting lists for oversubscribed schools as these will be held with the out of catchment sibling priority reinstated.

Although the Adjudicator did not direct the Council to take any action for the 2016/17 academic year, it has been decided due to these exceptional circumstances that a second appeal will be offered to those parents who can evidence a sibling connection at the relevant school.

This avoids the need for affected parents to make a second application, thus speeding up the process. However, the County Council can only provide this second appeal to community and voluntary controlled schools. Own Admission Authorities (Academies) will have to make their own decision in relation to a second appeal.

The Educations Appeals team will write to all those affected parents who have been identified through their initial appeal information this week.

Councillor John Peck, chairman of the Children and Young People’s Committee, said: “The committee recognised parents’ concerns and have tried to be as supportive as possible going forward.

“The Schools Adjudicator decision is binding and we have implemented it in full, in fact we have gone a bit further than required and offered a second appeal to those affected families in the current academic year.”

He added: The appeals are heard by independent appeals panels and they will consider the Adjudicator’s decision as part of its decision-making. But I must remind parents that there is no guarantee that a second appeal will be successful.”

Waiting lists for oversubscribed schools for the 2017/18 academic year which are effective from 4th May 2017 onwards, will operate in accordance with the revised oversubscription criteria which will give priority to pupils living out of catchment who have a sibling connection.

The waiting list applies to all on-time unsuccessful applications, late applications and changes to preferences.

Coun Peck added: “I am fully aware that some parents in Nottinghamshire have felt aggrieved and inconvenienced by our decision to remove the out of catchment sibling category from 2016, but I can assure parents that the decision was taken with the best of intentions to benefit local communities by getting local children into local schools.

“I am proud of Nottinghamshire’s record over the last few years that has seen on average 9 out of 10 parents securing their first preference school. Unfortunately, popular schools will always be over-subscribed and whatever the admissions criteria are for those schools, the likelihood is there will be some disappointed families.

“Since September 2013, Nottinghamshire County Council has invested almost £70m of government money to create in excess of 5,500 new school places. In addition, the council is currently looking at plans for a further 400 new school places at a cost of £5m for September this year. We are obviously trying to help as many parents as possible get their child into their first preference school.”