Priority for siblings after schools admissions policy change upheld

A SENIOR councillor has stood by her decision to ensure brothers and sisters going to the same primary school will be given priority as part of an overhaul of the admissions policy.

Hartlepool Borough Council is bringing in the changes after a rise in the number of siblings being separated, with parents forced to transport children to different parts of town.

The changes – rubber-stamped by independent councillor Cath Hill – will give siblings priority over those who live nearest or within the school’s admission zone and apply for the 2013-14 academic year.

It will only apply to community and voluntary controlled primary schools and come into effect when there are more applications for a school than there are places.

Voluntary aided schools manage their own admissions.

Coun Hill, portfolio holder for children’s and community services, originally took the decision in March.

But it was called in for scrutiny after the overhaul caused concern among some councillors.

That led to a full council debate and Coun Hill (pictured) was asked to reconsider or reaffirm the decision at a portfolio meeting.

Coun Hill said: “After giving the issue careful consideration, I am going to stick with the judgement I made originally and go with the change recommended at the first meeting.

“I have made my reasons clear on several occasions.

“From a practical point of view it is a nightmare for parents to have to take children to two different schools.

“Also, it is distressing enough for a small child to be starting school.

“But to be told they are going to a different school to their older brother or sister is wrong.”

Coun Hill added that there was support from parents, headteachers and governors for the changes.

She added: “I have been very conscious of those parents who told us, in graphic detail, about the problems they experience in taking their children to two different schools.”

In total, there are 30 primary schools in town, including one voluntary controlled and 19 community schools which will be affected.

There are 10 voluntary aided – four Church of England and six Roman Catholic schools – which will not be affected.

Last year there were 14 cases of children separated from their brothers and sisters and the proposals aim to keep families together and avoid unnecessary upheaval.

But Conservative group leader councillor Ray Wells described it as “fundamentally wrong” to exclude children whose parents live within the school’s admission zone in favour of those children that potentially live miles away from the school but have siblings there.

Concerned councillors also raised concerns the full consequences had not been made clear at governors’ meetings.

Education chiefs have previously said admissions is an area where it is impossible to please everyone as there are simply not enough places to go around.

They said they felt this was the fairest way.

It was also agreed to carry out a full town-wide review of school catchment areas and to consult with all schools.

That has been described as a “significant” piece of work and further reports will go to the portfolio holder.