Postcode lottery for Lothian primary school places

High demand means parents in the Lothians are more likely to get their preferred school than those in the Capital

High demand means parents in the Lothians are more likely to get their preferred school than those in the Capital

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PARENTS in the Lothians face a postcode lottery when applying for non-catchment primary school places, new figures show.

The data reveals wide variation in the success rate of P1 placing requests to schools in the three Lothian council areas, as population and roll rises squeeze families’ ability to choose where children are sent.

While nearly all youngsters in West Lothian are securing places at their first-choice school, only two-thirds of parents in East Lothian saw similar requests granted.

Education officers in Midlothian, meanwhile, have accepted around 80 per cent of applications made to primaries ahead of the start of the 2014-15 school session.

Lothians-based mums and dads enjoy considerably more chance of having requests approved than counterparts in Edinburgh, where intense space pressures have resulted in acceptance rates plunging to less than 40 per cent.

Parent leaders said growing divergence in schools’ ability to accommodate non-catchment children made it essential to offer clarity on the P1 admission process.

Tina Woolnough, of the National Parent Forum, said: “It’s an uphill struggle for many parents but making a placing request is a legal entitlement – local authorities should be making it as smooth as possible for them.

“What I would wish for is a closer examination of why things are one way in one authority but different in another, and what can be learned from that.”

The figures show Midlothian schools have granted 180 of 223 placing requests received in the run-up to the new term.

But breakdown statistics reveal some campuses are under greater strain than others, with popular primaries such as Moorfoot, Newtongrange and St David’s RC turning down at least half of all applications.

Education leaders said schools there were “coping well” despite growing demand for non-catchment spots.

Councillor Bob Constable, Midlothian cabinet member for education, said: “High demand for placing requests can come about for various reasons, from an older sibling attending the school to a new school opening or a particularly favourable inspection report.

“We try and accommodate as many of these requests as possible but unfortunately it’s not possible to grant them all.”

In East Lothian, where many schools are small and rurally-based, council leaders have been forced to reject 40 of 117 non-catchment applications but said they would do all they could to accommodate requests from individual families.

Councillor Shamin Akhtar, children’s wellbeing and 
education spokeswoman, said: “We try to support parental placing wishes wherever appropriate, but in some cases it isn’t possible.

“However, wherever children are placed in the county, we are committed to providing them with a high quality learning 
experience.”

The pressure on West Lothian primary and secondary schools appears considerably lower, with education chiefs stressing that only 86 of 4122 applications for P1/S1 spots were turned down in 2013.

Refusals are more likely to be based on issues such as prioritising access to denominational schools than catchment boundaries, they added.

The emerging squeeze on parents’ ability to choose where children go to school comes after we revealed last month that the number of Edinburgh primaries shutting their doors to all non-catchment pupils before the 2014-15 session had nearly quadrupled to 39.

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com