Council Considers Changes To School Sibling Policy

Plans to consult with parents with aim to make admissions process fairer

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

Education chiefs are expected to announce a public consultation into plans that would change the current arrangements that give preference to siblings.

The change is being considered in a bid to make the schools admissions process fairer and to give greater priority to children who live closest to schools.

Education spokesman Cllr Kathy Tracey said: “There has been a growing clamour from parents asking us to look at this rule because of mounting evidence that local school places are being offered to children living some distance away simply because they have an older sibling already enrolled there. There are growing signs that some parents are enrolling a child in a popular Wandsworth primary school and then moving out of the area, safe in the knowledge that their younger children are virtually guaranteed a place at the same school solely because of the sibling rule.

She continued: “What this does is deny that place to a child who lives much closer to the school, sometimes only a stone’s throw away. There have been cases where schools have had to offer almost all their places to siblings, some of whom may live a considerable distance away, while a child who lives literally a few yards away from the school gates cannot be offered a place. We don’t think this is fair which is why we are proposing a solution that will strike the right balance and better meet the needs of parents who live close to our schools.”

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.

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.

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.

If, after consultation, the change is agreed, the council will urge church schools and other state schools responsible for their own admissions, like academies and foundation schools, to consider similar changes.

The council is also tightening up the rules that allow parents to use temporary addresses to obtain a school place. There has been growing evidence that, despite the council’s rigorous 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.

Councillors on the education and children’s services overview and scrutiny committee will be asked to endorse these proposed changes for public consultation at their meeting on September 17.

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

September 11, 2014

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