School catchments: Parents take council to court

Five families who applied for out-of-catchment places at Buckstone Primary were turned down. Picture: Toby Williams
Five families who applied for out-of-catchment places at Buckstone Primary were turned down. Picture: Toby Williams
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FURIOUS parents forced to send their children to different primaries after they were denied P1 places at a city school are launching a legal action against the council.

A group of five families is to file an appeal at Edinburgh Sheriff Court this week to challenge the grounds on which their children were refused entry to Buckstone Primary following unsuccessful out-of-catchment placing requests.

The families decided to launch the action after a “shambolic” and “farcical” council appeals hearing in May, where they claim officials did not have access to key information, could not answer questions and even managed to mix up children’s names.

The row is the latest indication of growing pressure on primaries across the Capital – brought on by a spike in the population.

Dr Michael Edwards, a lecturer and researcher at Edinburgh University, whose son was refused a P1 place at Buckstone even though his sister attends the school, said: “The hearing was just shambolic.

“It would have been a laughable farce were it not for the fact that the future of our children is at stake.”

Dr Edwards, 41, said education officers seemed unable to present even basic data in support of their arguments that offering places to the appellants’ children would compromise the welfare of existing pupils, cause the school to incur extra cost and force the council to hire another teacher.

While the parents were able to defeat the council on the first two points, they were beaten on the third after the appeal panel refused to accept that lack of existing teaching capacity, and a nearby housing development by Cala, meant another member of staff would be needed.

“It was an embarrassing display of lack of knowledge and preparation,” said Dr Edwards.

“Having children at different schools is unimaginable. There’s no way you can get around having one child coming to school half an hour late or being taken out of school half an hour early. The child quickly becomes an outcast and it dramatically affects learning.”

Another appellant, who did not want to be named, said: “The process we had to go through was a farce . . . the people responsible for running it should be held accountable.”

Education officials rejected claims that parents were ill-served. A council spokesman said: “Parents are entitled to make appeals if their request for a non-catchment place is unsuccessful. Appeal panel members are totally independent of the council and all receive extensive training in the appeals process. Chairpersons have an extensive background in education and this panel was very experienced. The law categorically states that only one ground for refusal has to be met and, as with any unsuccessful appeal, parents have the right to go to the Sheriff Court for a further hearing.”

We revealed last week that education chiefs plan to spend £15m on 63 new classrooms to alleviate pressure on primaries.

LEGAL ACTION

PARENTS desperate to get their children into Buckstone Primary said the legal action would be phased.

They said a Sheriff Court case – listing the three statutory grounds on which the council denied their children P1 places – would be filed by the end of next week. A detailed case on why they were challenging the “adequacy and legal robustness” of these grounds will be presented in formal court papers.

Meanwhile, the group will also offer to cease action if education chiefs agree to re-run the original appeal.