Council out to shut doors on school placement requests

Andy O'Brien with children Flora, Josie and Louis

Andy O'Brien with children Flora, Josie and Louis

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WORRIED parents have accused council chiefs of attempting to stifle choice with a legal clampdown on school placing requests.

Edinburgh City Council wants to change school admission rules so an application can be refused if P1 classes in a school have reached the legal limit of 25 pupils.

The News can reveal education bosses have struck up a dialogue with Scottish Government ministers about the law change. Education leader Paul Godzik said of the shock move: “The reality is that the days when parents could pick and choose a school for their children are now gone.”

The Scottish Government said it “strongly supports” parental choice and would be happy to discuss the issue with council chiefs.

City leaders have suggested updating the rules so councils can refuse a placing request if every P1 class in a school has reached the legal limit of 25 or 30 if there are team teachers.

And they have questioned whether parental choice is now a “practical reality” given the pressure faced by city schools.

In recent years, thousands of families have flooded the admission service with of out-of-catchment applications, while hundreds have launched appeals after requests were refused. Although the class size limit is factored into decisions on placing requests, parent leaders said moves to include it within the law smacked of an attempt to squeeze families’ freedom to choose which schools children are sent to.

Tina Woolnough, Edinburgh representative for the National Parent Forum, said: “It sounds to me that they are trying to remove as much of the element of parental choice as they can, presumably to save money on the appeals process. It could be that Edinburgh did not plan well enough for the number of children coming through, but I’m not sure that changing legislation is going to help.”

Early stage proposals to update the rules on placing requests come as a law makes its way through the Scottish Parliament aimed at establishing a new tribunals system that would replace education appeals committees.

City bosses said it was “sensible” to review all aspects of the current set-up given legislative changes are already under way.

Councillor Godzik said: “Clearly as we look at the issue of rising school rolls and increased pressure for space at our primary schools, the reality is that the days when parents could pick and choose a school for their children are now gone.

“Despite this, there are still significant issues with out-of-catchment placing requests and the appeals process, so we’re looking very closely at the way in which we manage those. There’s both a financial pressure and an increasing administrative burden to the council. Critically we want to ensure that the process is clear, and that parents have confidence in it.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government strongly supports parental choice, including parents’ rights to make a placing request. We have not yet been approached by Edinburgh City Council on this matter, but we are always happy to have discussions about how best to deliver excellent education across Scotland.”

‘Taking away the choice is disappointing’

Father-of-three Andy O’Brien said he was worried by the prospect of changes to the law on school admissions.

Mr O’Brien, 47, has two daughters – Flora, seven, and Josie, five – who attend Royal High Primary as out-of-catchment pupils. The photographer said he wanted his two-year-old son, Louis, to join his sisters at the school when he is old enough, but that the proposed change would make this uncertain.

He said: “If this makes the system too black and white, and takes away from parental choice, then that would be disappointing. Each situation is different.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com