School places policy row

Coun Ray Wells
Coun Ray Wells

RADICAL plans to overhaul the admissions policy to allow all brothers and sisters to go to the same primary schools are set to be discussed by councillors.

Hartlepool Borough Council is set to bring 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 would give siblings priority over those who live nearest or within the school’s admission zone.

But the shake-up, described as the biggest for over a decade, angered some councillors who called for a review of the decision, originally taken by independent councillor Cath Hill, the council’s portfolio holder for children’s services.

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The call-in was discussed by the scrutiny co-ordinating committee, which agreed to send it to full council for a debate.

An extraordinary full council meeting is due to take place next Thursday.

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.

Labour councillor Marjorie James submitted the call-in request on his behalf in April.

During the discussions, scrutiny co-ordinating committee members heard the education department had received a number of positive emails.

But councillors raised concerns about the proposed changes and raised concerns the full consequences had not been made clear at the governors’ meetings.

A report to full council said: “Attention was drawn to the importance of local community schools being accessible to the families living within that local community and the committee decided that the matter should be referred to council to enable a town-wide elected member debate to be undertaken.

“These views will then be considered by the scrutiny co-ordinating committee in completion of the call-in process.”

A report would then go back to a future portfolio meeting.

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.

The changes would only apply to community and voluntary controlled primary schools and not voluntary aided schools, which manage their own admissions.

It would come into effect when there are more applications for a school than there are places.

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.

The new rules would apply for the 2013-14 academic year.

The full council is due to meet on Thursday, June 14, at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, at 7pm.